Baylor volleyball, in its first nationally televised game of the season, hosted in-state conference rival TCU in a match that paid tribute and brought awareness to those who have fought various forms of cancer. The Bears paid homage to cancer awareness by sharing on the big screen how they have personally been affected by cancer. Then they got down to business, taking care of TCU in straight sets, 25-19, 25-20, 25-19, and getting rid of the sour feeling left by Kansas on Saturday.
“I think we were all really focused during practice and knew how important this win was in working towards a Big 12 championship,” said freshman middle hitter Nicole Thomas. “It was great coming out here and getting it done.”
The Bears showed no signs of doubt from the Kansas defeat as they gained and held the momentum from the opening point. Early on in the first set, after going back and forth, Baylor used a 6-1 run to gain a healthy margin against the Horned Frogs. TCU did not go away quietly, answering with a 5-2 run of their own to close the gap and keep it competitive. Despite being undersized compared to their opponents, the Bears managed great success in the first set, tallying 13 kills and hitting at a 28 percent clip. Baylor also managed five blocks in the opening set, including their final two points, and closing out the first set 25-19.
Baylor benefited greatly from the enthusiastic crowd at the Ferrell Center. As the moments got bigger and the match got tighter, the atmosphere helped propel the Bears to key points needed to stop TCU’s momentum and ultimately put away the Horned Frogs.
“We love the opportunity to have a lot of fans,” redshirt junior outside hitter Katie Staiger said. “We love being on ESPN. Our goal is to shine and show that we’re playing for something bigger than ourselves, so we love having a lot of people out here.”
Baylor grabbed the lead in the second set, never relinquishing it on their way to a 25-20 win in the second. The Bears continued to find success at the net, both on the defensive end with the emergence of freshman middle hitter Nicole Thomas as the lead blocker against TCU and the relentless attacking from Staiger.
“How can you not be overjoyed and excited about a great athlete with such great humility in Katie? 23 kills to one error when she is the focal point that everyone is keying on,” head coach Ryan McGuyre said. “She is mastering the game beautifully and finding ways to score for us. She has been the difference for us getting into all these tight sets.”
Baylor led from start to finish in the third set, once again relying on perfectly timed attacks from Staiger and big plays at the net by both Thomas and senior setter Morgan Reed.
Staiger, despite finishing with 23 kills and attacking at almost 50%, is quick to pass the credit on to her teammates.
“Morgan is doing a great job putting the ball where I want it. We have good chemistry,” Staiger said. “We’ve been playing together for a while, so we have that connection, and it all starts with the pass. Morgan is making good decisions and setting the ball well.”
The Bears were able to control the net play and keep balls alive off the Horned Frogs’ attacks which created opportunities for Staiger and sophomore outside hitter Aniah Philo, who finished with 10 kills. TCU came in with a distinct height advantage, however the Bears rose to the challenge.
“Our team has been very attentive. We’ve overachieved in blocking,” McGuyre said. “We’ve made a mentality. We’re not huge; we’re not big; we’re not very physical, but we’re relentless. We’re trying to get after it and make it happen. We’re blocking in a way that is having an impact on what they’re doing.”
Thomas, as a result of injuries, has had the opportunity to step in and make big plays for Baylor at the net. Tonight against TCU, her ability to rise to the challenge of the bigger attackers and dictate play was on full display.
“We’re having a special season. It’s been a beautiful thing,” McGuyre said. “In order to have a special season, you need special athletes, and Nicole is one of those special athletes. As a freshman, she makes good things happen. She’s hungry to learn, and she’s intuitive. We are very impressed with her.”
Baylor volleyball now has a week to rest and begin preparation for the University of Texas, as the Longhorns will make the trip to the Ferrell Center next Wednesday. The Bears will look to keep their momentum going and avenge a pair of losses to the Longhorns in 2015. After their win tonight, Baylor improves to 15-5, 3-1 and 9-1 at the Ferrell Center. Texas is 12-2 and currently ranks No. 4 in the country. The match is set to begin at 7 p.m.