The Baylor volleyball team pushed its winning streak to nine matches in a row after withstanding a stiff test from the visiting the No. 23 ranked Kansas State Wildcats on Faith and Family night at the Ferrell Center.
The key for the Bears in their recent success has been to focus on being relentless, always and in all ways. That process begins by developing a strong, cohesive unit that moves, works and plays as one.
Junior libero Jana Brusek said, “I think we’re focusing on togetherness. I think unity is a huge priority for us, Having each other’s backs and making sure we can play free because that perfect love we have is going to drive out any fear, anxiety or second guessing we have. I think it’s really encouraging to be surrounded by girls that want the same thing and all want to love on one another.”
The Bears and the Wildcats battled back and forth, exchanging ties throughout the first set. Baylor, however, got the last laugh in the first set, taking it 25-23 after consecutive kills by sophomore outside hitter Ashley Fritcher and redshirt junior outside hitter Katie Staiger.
Despite taking the first set, the mood was somber after redshirt freshman middle hitter Jaelyn Jackson went down with an injury, but Baylor rallied around her and showed the resiliency that has defined them the entire year.
“It kind of seems like a lot of injuries. We’re getting hit hard by them,” Staiger said, “but coach is putting six people on the court and everyone off the bench is able to do incredible things. We’ve been really resilient.”
Baylor jumped out to a fast 4-1 lead to start the second set. However, the Wildcats clawed their way back into the match, cutting the Bears’ lead to two on several occasions. Baylor was able to rise to the challenge with timely kills from Staiger and junior middle hitter Camryn Freiberg to close out the second set, 25-22.
The third set followed suit with the first two with the Bears controlling the pace and the net against the Wildcats. This pace was set by the effort and skill of Staiger.
“Katie is like no other player I’ve coached in the past, to hit .373 like she did against a ranked opponent,” head coach Ryan McGuyre said. “The humble warrior she is. She’s fun to be around. I’ve never had a goofy, dominant player like Katie.”
Staiger, despite leading the offense with 23 kills and 11 digs, is quick to give her teammates all the credit.
“It all starts with the pass and the set,” Staiger said. “I’m the third person that gets to hit the ball, and I think we’re being so committed to passing well and setting well, it’s given me a lot of opportunities.”
The Bears’ front line made the Wildcats’ lives miserable at the net all day, forcing them into just a .133 hitting percentage. Baylor only seemed to get stronger as the third set went on and eventually closed out the Wildcats 25-19, securing the win.
With nine straight wins, the confidence is building in the locker room, and it is palpable among both players and coaches.
“There’s something very special about this team. There’s something special about Baylor volleyball,” McGuyre said. “This 2016 team is laying a beautiful foundation for future Baylor Bears coming here, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The journey doesn’t get any easier for the Bears as they continue conference play with matches against Texas Tech and Kansas this week. However, the Bears are quick to celebrate and eager to get back to work.
“We know they are both incredibly talented teams,” Brusek said. “It’s going to be a great matchup. We know we need to stay focused, get after it, and no hesitation.”