Led by Tolbert, team seeks greatness

Freshman Nicole Bardaji pratices her spikes Tuesday at Marrs-McLean Gymnasium.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor

By Krista Pirtle
Staff Writer

The word different can sometimes hold a negative connotation, but for the Baylor volleyball team, it holds more of an inspiring challenge.

“There’s only a few teams that are different, and those are the ones that go above and beyond in everything,” head coach Jim Barnes said. “They’re above average. I dared them to be different.”

The 2011 squad has enforced this motto since day one of practice. Their hard work paid off at their tournament in Indiana this past weekend. After being swept by No. 13 Purdue, they stepped out on the court again with resolve and frustration, sweeping College of Charleston and VCU.

One thing that is different about their strategy of play is the switch from having two setters on the court to only one, allowing for more of an attacking offense.

Senior setter Brittany Ridenour showed her ability to lead the team this season to extraordinary places.

“I’ve been hitting off her [Ridenour] a couple seasons now, and just having her so calm and confident in herself as a player helps us stay confident,” senior middle blocker Briana Tolbert said. “It helps the other seniors on the court lead as well.”

Junior middle blocker Torri Campbell excelled last weekend, which was no surprise as she has been named to the preseason All-Big 12 team, finishing last season with a .295 hitting percentage and 199 kills, second for the 2010 squad.

Tolbert rose to the occasion this past weekend, stepping up to her role as senior and taking the place of Elizabeth Graham, who graduated last May.

“Bri [Tolbert] is a world-class athlete,” Barnes said. “Her and Torri [Campbell] really control the game.”

Control is great to have on the court, but Barnes admits only having one game plan will not help this team be different.

“We’re working this week on getting our other players to pick up their offensive game because when they do that, we’re going to be tough to stop,” Barnes said. “Our focus this week is to use our option two, our other attackers, to implement them more in our offense so we’re a little more balanced.”

Barnes is entering his eighth season at Baylor and is 117-106.

Campbell acknowledged Barnes’ hard work and the impact he has had on the improvement of the volleyball program. Tolbert echoes Campbell’s praises.

“I’ve known Coach since high school when I was getting recruited,” Tolbert said. “He’s always been a great coach to play for. Being a senior, I’ve been trained by him for four years.”

Barnes returns the respect he receives from his team.

“When you’re a coach and you’re inspired by your players, it’s great thing,” Barnes said. “This group works really hard, the way they do it and the way the express themselves inspires us coaches so they’re a special group.”

The Lady Bears acknowledge they need to exceed average to make the NCAA tournament.