By Cody Soto
It’s the home stretch for the Baylor volleyball team. The Bears (14-15, 4-10 Big 12) are fighting for the chance to compete in the NCAA tournament, and they only have two more regular season games to complete conference play.
Baylor dropped a four-set decision to No. 2 Texas Wednesday night at the Ferrell Center to lose its 15th match of the season. However, the Bears came out with positive takeaways.
Baylor held Texas to its lowest hitting percentage of the season and took one set over the second-ranked Longhorns. Prior to Wednesday night, Texas had only dropped 13 sets in the entire season.
“We served tough, and that was a big part of the game we’ve been working on along with our defense,” head coach Jim Barnes said. “We were able to go toe-to-toe with Texas as we slowed down one of the strongest offensive teams in the country.”
Sitting near the bottom of the conference standings, the Bears will need strong showings in the final two matches: the first against West Virginia on Saturday.
“With two matches left, we want to leave everything out on the floor,” junior outside hitter Thea Munch-Soegaard said. “We know our future isn’t set in stone right now and anything can happen, so we need to come out and do everything we can to get as far as we can go.”
Baylor lost 3-1 to the Mountaineers (14-13, 4-9 Big 12) on Oct. 22 and look to redeem itself in Morgantown, W.Va. Despite being down 2-0 in the match, the Bears used 16 kills on a .286 attack effort to take the third set win 25-22. However, 23 hitting errors and 11 team blocks by West Virginia crippled the Baylor offense.
“You’re going to make mistakes in a game, but you can’t react where you become less aggressive and tentative,” Barnes said. “We’ve had some young players make mistakes and it’s gotten them off their game, but we’ve got to react with being more aggressive and not let the mistakes take us out of our game.”
Outside hitters Andie Malloy and Katie Staiger led the team with 20 and 15 kills, but they didn’t receive much help from Munch-Soegaard. Wednesday night was a different story. Munch-Soegaard had an impressive performance against Texas with 16 kills and 18 digs. Malloy and Staiger struggled to make a statement from the left side, combining for 16 errors.
“If we serve and play great defense like we did against Texas, we will be in the game,” Barnes said. “We need two or three hitters hitting well and not just one.”
After the 3-1 win over Baylor, West Virginia went on a five-game losing streak and dropped close matches to then-No. 22 Kansas State and TCU. They then lost in straight sets to then-No. 25 Oklahoma, Iowa State and No. 2 Texas.
“West Virginia is a scrappy team, and everyone in the Big 12 right now is playing at a high level,” Munch-Soegaard said. “We need to play every point because we know they’re going to battle just like we are. We can’t let up one bit in order to get a win.”
The Mountaineers ended the streak with a 3-0 sweep over Texas Tech last Saturday in Morgantown behind a balance attack from outside hitters Jordan Anderson and Nikki Attea. Although the Mountaineers were out-dug 55 to 47, Anderson and Attea carried the team to a .227 hitting percentage on 48 kills.
“Our biggest adjustment is getting our middle hitters and left side hitters connected with our setters,” Barnes said. “We’ve struggled there and have not had consistency with them, and we’ve struggled on the right side, but hopefully Thea [Munch-Soegaard] will bring her game once again. If we can do that, then we’re going to beat a good team.”
The Bears battle the Mountaineers Saturday night at WVU Coliseum. The match will tip off at 7 p.m.