Baylor volleyball building confidence down closing stretch of 2014 season

Sophomore outside hitter Katie Staiger (4) goes up for a kill against West Virginia on Oct. 22. The Bears lost 3-1 at the Ferrell Center in Waco.
Kevin Freeman | Lariat Photographer
Sophomore outside hitter Katie Staiger (4) goes up for a kill against West Virginia on Oct. 22. The Bears lost 3-1 at the Ferrell Center in Waco. Kevin Freeman | Lariat Photographer
Sophomore outside hitter Katie Staiger (4) goes up for a kill against West Virginia on Oct. 22. The Bears lost 3-1 at the Ferrell Center in Waco.
Kevin Freeman | Lariat Photographer

By Cody Soto
Sports Writer

The Baylor volleyball season is like a roller coaster.

The Bears (13-11, 3-6 Big 12) came into the 2014 season as the sixth-ranked team in the Big 12 standings, and they didn’t think it did the team justice.

Baylor only lost two players due to graduation and brought back three players from injury to have a chance for redemption.

In the beginning of the season, they took a commanding three-set sweep over Abilene Christian to kick off its non-conference schedule. The Bears won its first two games before falling to Portland in the Hampton Inn Waco North Baylor Invitational at the Ferrell Center.

Baylor took a four-set win over Rice and played six straight away matches and recorded wins in Arlington, San Marcos, and Washington D.C. The Bears remained perfect in the George Washington Colonials Challenge to take the tournament title on Sept. 13.

Baylor returned to Waco and defeated Northwestern State to improve to a 9-2 season record and prepared itself to compete in its last tournament of non-conference play.

Then, Baylor volleyball took a downward ride on its roller coaster season.

The Bears dropped all three of its matches in the UTSA Classic and headed to Manhattan, Kan. with a 9-5 record, dropping matches to UTSA and LSU before Big 12 play.

Baylor rallied for a thrilling five-set win over Kansas State to win its first conference road opener since 1997 and returned to Waco to host Texas Tech on Oct. 1.

With a good conference win under their belt, the Bears then went on a six-game conference-losing streak starting with a five-set loss to Texas Tech and a four-set loss to West Virginia, both of which were at home. The Bears had hit a low point in their season, sitting at 1-6 in conference play.

“It’s not ever been about the will and the hustle of our team, but it’s about having enough players playing a high level,” head coach Jim Barnes said.

Also, things did not help when junior outside hitter Laura Jones tore her ACL during the team’s match against Kansas. Jones is out for the season and left a hole in the Baylor offense.

“We definitely took a big hit by losing Laura Jones,” senior outside hitter Nicole Bardaji said. “She’s a great player who has a lot of firepower and intensity, and she always works so hard, so that was a tough break for us.”

After evening up the season record at 11-11, the Bears have turned things around and have taken two big conference wins over Iowa State at home and against Texas Tech in Lubbock.

The Bears rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take a five-set win over the Cyclones in an exciting two-hour matchup in the Ferrell Center while the team took care of business on the road and rolled over the Red Raiders with a 3-1 win.

“We are taking this one game at a time,” Malloy said. “We have to come out with the mentality to out work the other team and stay positive. It’s about never giving up to get every point.”

The Bears have only been swept by one Big 12 team and have gone through the rest of the matches either winning or losing in four or five sets. This says a lot about the resilience of the team, Malloy said.

“It definitely shows that we can hang with anyone in the Big 12, and if we are playing our game throughout the match, then we can battle and keep up with these teams. We can win if we keep pushing,” Malloy said.

The Bears look to turn around their season just as quickly as it was turned on them, but it’s going to take a team effort, Bardaji said.

“We definitely have a lot of talent and athleticism, but we just need to put it all together,” Bardaji said. “We’re a very close knit team. We want to work hard for each other and for Christ. We’re in a good place to move forward, so things look hopeful for us.”

Baylor is already improving different weakness of its game, and the players see that.

“If we can take our serving to whole another level, we can get teams down,” Malloy said. “Also, we have got to pass well with no over-passing and good serve-receive. We need to make it easier on our setter to take care of the ball.”
After Wednesday’s win over Texas Tech, the Bears collectively hit .214 and post 13.8 kills per set, 15.5 digs per set, and 2.1 blocks per set. Malloy currently leads the team with 4.01 kills per set and contributes 2.94 digs per set. Right behind Malloy is freshman outside hitter Katie Staiger who adds 3.05 kills per set after coming back from a torn ACL last season.

At the net, sophomore middle hitters Sam Hill and Tola Itiola post 1.00 and 0.94 blocks per set. Both players have been able to also create an offensive flow on the frontcourt by contributing kills during the match. Itiola adds 1.89 kills per set, and Hill contributes 1.63 per set.

In the back row, senior libero Hope Ogden has 2.92 digs per set followed by freshman liberos Jana Brusek and Ashley Myer at 2.33 and 2.58 digs per set.

As the Bears make the upward climb to save their season, Barnes said the team needs to turn everything into points.

“The confidence is growing, but we need to continue to push hard to get our serves and passing game to continue to move forward because that’s what’s going to continue to help our blocking and our scoring,” Barnes said.

The Bears head to Lawrence, Kan. to face Kansas for the second time this season on Nov. 5 and look to avenge their four-set loss to the Jayhawks at home. Game is set for 6:30 p.m.