By Shehan Jayarajah
Baylor volleyball struggled early in Big 12 Conference play, but ended the first half of conference play with consecutive wins against Kansas State and Texas Tech. The Bears (11-13, 2-5) will look to turn a corner in a midweek road match against the powerhouse Kansas Jayhawks (16-5, 6-2). The Bears won their last two matches behind a switch at starting setter. Freshman Morgan Reed has stepped in and brought a new energy to the team.
“Morgan has been playing really well in practice, and she is just a natural born leader,” head coach Jim Barnes said. “When we were struggling, we were looking for a little bit more leadership. With rotations changing due to injury, we thought this was the right time to make a change.”
In Reed’s two matches, she is averaging 10.25 assists per set, 2.63 digs per set and 0.75 blocks per set.
“It’s a little bit different with a new setter,” senior defensive specialist Kayci Evans said. “We’re all trying to get used to the change, but Morgan takes constructive criticism pretty well. She’s easily sculpted. She wants criticism, which helps us out a lot.”
Sophomore outside hitter Laura Jones has been relied on to play all six rotations on the floor in the last six matches after fellow sophomore outside hitter Thea Munch-Soegaard went down with a foot injury. In the two matches since, Jones has posted 3.38 kills per set and 3.25 digs per set, well above her season averages of 2.71 kills per set and 1.21 digs per set.
“I feel good about where we are as a team,” redshirt freshman outside hitter Sam Hill said. “People are stepping up and playing different positions, and we’ve been succeeding.”
Kansas has one of the best defenses in the Big 12 this season. The Jayhawks hold opponents to a .176 hitting percentage, second behind only Texas in conference play. Kansas leads the Big 12 in blocks with 2.86 blocks per set. Out of the top four individual blockers in the conference, three of them are Jayhawks. Junior outside hitter Sara McClinton leads Kansas and is second in the Big 12 with 4.00 kills per set on a .292 hitting percentage.
In the last match against Kansas on Oct. 5 in Waco, Baylor played one of its worst matches of the season. The Bears hit .149 and allowed Kansas to hit a robust .363, well above KU’s season average of a .259 hitting percentage. Kansas out-blocked Baylor 16.0 to 3.0 and out-dug Baylor 61-50 in the four set match.
“We’ve been really focusing on serving, blocking and digging,” sophomore middle hitter Adrien Richburg said. “The latter two really killed us in the last match against Kansas.”
Baylor’s top player in that match was Munch-Soegaard with 17 kills and 12 digs. She will not play in the rematch at KU. Jones was the only other player in double-digit kills for Baylor against Kansas. She finished with 11 kills. The Bears finished with 34 total errors compared to 25 from Kansas.
“We really just need to play clean,” Evans said. “If we play our system, then we should be fine. For whatever reason, we always play well at KU. Never at home for whatever reason, but in Kansas. We have a lot of fire after getting beat at home. We’re ready to sock it to them.”
Baylor will play Kansas at 6 p.m. today at the Horejsi Center in Lawrence, Kan. The match will be televised on ESPNU.