By Cody Soto
Baylor volleyball returns to Big 12 action to face Big 12 foe Oklahoma Saturday night in McCasland Field House in Norman, Okla.
“This game is at the perfect time because we can go out there and play really hard against Oklahoma, and that can be a great statement win for us,” freshman outside hitter Katie Staiger said.
The Bears (11-9, 1-4) hope to upset the young but feisty Sooners team (13-5, 4-1) in a crucial away game after taking two wins over Oklahoma in the spring season.
“We have this unspoken rivalry between Oklahoma and Baylor, and we beat them twice in the spring which is something we don’t normally do,” junior setter Amy Rosenbaum said. “We need to come out with the same mentality that we can beat this team and do our job selectively and collectively.”
Baylor is coming off a four-set win on Tuesday over Louisiana-Lafayette in a non-conference matchup to snap their four-game losing streak in Big 12 play. The Bears only dropped the third set after making a dramatic 9-2 comeback to tie the game at 22-22 to eventually lose the set 26-24.
“I felt the team really worked well together on Tuesday night, and we can really run a balanced offense with the different rotations,” Staiger said. “It was really satisfying to get the feeling of winning back and that confidence again.”
The Bears head into Saturday’s matchup with confidence to turn around their conference record after they dropped four straight matches since their five-set win over Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. to start Big 12 play.
“We understand that we haven’t had a great start to the conference season and that things are still coming together for us, so we are really trusting in our abilities as we focus on playing Oklahoma,” Rosenbaum said.
Oklahoma is a perfect 7-0 at home this season under head coach Santiago Restrepo, and although the squad only has one senior, they are tied for second place with Kansas State in Big 12 standings after their four-set win over Texas Tech Wednesday night. All sets against the Red Raiders were decided by three points or less with the Sooners only dropping the opening set on a .000 hitting effort.
Baylor continues to work on keeping hitting errors below five per set, something that helped the Bears during their matchup against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“The number one statistic for us is hitting errors right now. We are making a big focus on it every day,” head coach Jim Barnes said. “If we are at five errors or less, we are going to win the set. We saw that Tuesday night against Louisiana-Lafayette.”
Baylor looks to execute in long rallies to take crucial points in the match. The Bears have historically ended several long rallies with either hitting or block errors.
“We’ve got to be disciplined during those long rallies and we can’t let them in on our hitting mistakes,” Barnes said. “We cannot end those rallies by hitting into the net or into the block. If that’s our mentality with this team, then that’s going to work.”
The Sooners are led by three powerful juniors at different positions. Outside hitter Kierra Holst leads the team with 224 kills on the season and averages 3.25 kills per set. Setter Julia Doyle takes the reins as their setter averaging 10.79 assists per set, rivaling Rosenbaum’s 10.26 assists per frame. Oklahoma ranks ninth in assists per set opposed to Baylor’s third place ranking.
“We’re working on speeding up our offense as well so we are not looking at facing so many solid double blocks,” Barnes said. “Hopefully the combination of faster offense and taking care of the ball will take care of the hitting errors where we need them.”
In the back row, junior Taylor Migliazzo adds 3.58 digs per set, but the team ranks ninth overall in the Big 12 conference in this category.
Freshman middle blocker Marion Hazelwood makes her mark at the net with 0.90 blocks per set and leads the team with an impressive 62 blocks on the season. The Sooners sit at the bottom of the conference rankings in blocks per set as well, but they are not far behind Baylor in eighth place.
Barnes looks to use the team’s middle hitters as a tool to keep Baylor’s offense at its newly developed faster-paced offense.
“For the last two weeks, our middle hitters have been getting better and better,” Barnes said. “It’s been really helping our 6-2 system. They’ve been able to thrive in it. If they can be a force in the middle, it frees up our ‘pin players’ and we can play at a high level and speed up our offense that way.”
The Sooners’ only conference loss so far was a four-set road decision against Iowa State on Sunday. Before the matchup, Oklahoma only dropped matches against No. 10 Florida, No. 13 North Carolina, Duke and SMU.
Baylor and Oklahoma face off in Norman on Saturday at 7 p.m.