By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor volleyball hosts the 2013 Baylor Invitational Tournament this weekend at the Ferrell Center. Baylor faces off against Northwestern State and Appalachian State today and then takes on Colorado on Saturday.
Northwestern State heads into the Baylor Invitational with a record of 1-6, with its sole win coming against Prairie View A&M. Freshman outside hitter Ashley Elrod leads the team with a .206 hitting percentage and totals of 57 kills and 48 digs through 22 sets. The Lady Demons have a combined hitting percentage of .104 and allow opponents to hit .232 on the season.
Appalachian State has a record of 6-1, including a tournament win in the Appalachian Invitational. Appalachian State has had the Southern Conference Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week for consecutive weeks. Sophomore outside hitter Emily Corrigan has led the Mountaineers with 82 kills and is second on the team with 52 digs. Sophomore libero Meghan Mahoney won Defensive Player of the Week before and leads the Mountaineers with 120 digs.
Colorado enters the tournament with a record of 5-1. The Buffaloes only loss this year was a split in back-to-back matches against St. Mary’s. Sophomore outside hitter Alexis Austin leads the Buffaloes with 56 kills and 3.50 kills per set. In their six matches, Colorado has held their opponents to a hitting percentage of .172, while hitting .299 themselves.
Baylor volleyball comes into this tournament in need of a spark. The Bears currently have the worst record among Big 12 teams this season with a 2-6 record. The Bears rank in the bottom third in the conference in every per set team metric thus far: hitting percentage, opponent hitting percentage, assists, kills, blocks, aces and digs.
“We don’t lack the talent at all, we just lack the execution,” sophomore setter Amy Rosenbaum said. “In our last match, we had set point in the fourth set. We should have gotten it. We’ve been talking a lot about finishing the match strong.”
The match Rosenbaum was referring to was a loss to Texas State on Tuesday night. The Bears fell behind 2-0 before taking a convincing third set. The Bears then fought back from deficits of 6-0 and 21-17 to take a 24-23 lead to serve for set point. Baylor allowed Texas State to score three straight points and take the match.
“We always trail behind teams,” sophomore outside hitter Thea Munch-Soegaard said. “We battle hard the entire match, but we’ll give them the first set and fight from behind. We can’t do that. We have to be the aggressors and set the pace for the other team.”
The coaching staff has tried to emphasize the importance of having a good start during practices.
“Even in matches we’ve won, we’ve started slow,” head volleyball coach Jim Barnes said. “Our focus has been starting and executing much quicker than we have been, that way we don’t have to come back.”
The Bears have shown throughout the season that they have the talent to match most teams they play. The Bears lost to UTA in match two of the Baylor Classic, but went on to beat Mississippi State soundly later that night. MSU beat UTA in their matchup.
“All these matches, I’ve been trying to figure out what it is we’re doing wrong,” Rosenbaum said. “Against SMU, we were confident in our abilities and ourselves, and we were able to put all the pieces together. We just need to copy that for the matches heading forward.”
Despite the early adversity, Rosenbaum sees a turning point coming up this weekend.
“We’re ready to put the pieces of the puzzle together,” Rosenbaum said. “This weekend we want to play volleyball like we know how to and not be great in one area and lack in another area.”
Barnes knows his team is young, but is ready for them to make strides.
“This tournament is an opportunity for this team,” Barnes said. “We’re gaining experience, but we need to start gaining some wins.”
Munch-Soegaard agrees with her coach.
“This tournament is a pivotal point in our season,” Munch-Soegaard said. “We’ve gotten off to a slow start, so if we can come out and win this tournament, we can set the pace for the rest of the season.”
The three-match Baylor Invitational will be hosted on this weekend at the Ferrell Center. The Bears have a double-header today.
The Bears first match is today at 12:30 p.m. against Northwestern State and then Baylor takes the court again at 7 p.m. against Appalachian State. The Bears finish the tournament at 6 p.m. Saturday against Colorado.