Although Baylor volleyball dropped a tough five-setter on Saturday to the No. 4-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, there was much to celebrate Sunday night as Baylor made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. The Bears were rewarded for their hard work, where they finished 21-11, 9-7 in the Big 12 conference.
“I’m really excited,” said head coach Ryan McGuyre. “This team has been so special, so fun to be around. Some years, it’s just about wins and competition. This year, it’s about just extending the season because we’ve got a great group of girls. It’s just fun. We don’t want it to end.”
Despite being one of the most successful teams in the program’s history, the Bears will not get the luxury of playing close to home. They will match up with the University of San Diego and play in the Los Angeles regional hosted by the 10th-seeded UCLA Bruins.
“[San Diego is] a very good team. They’ve had a great year. What makes competition and postseason fun is that everybody has been winning, so they know how to finish off sets. It kind of gives you that from the first serve all the way to the ball hitting the floor,” McGuyre said. “Everything really counts, and that’s what we’ve had to do just to win some matches this year. Now, we’re playing teams with that similar type of charisma, so now it’s about executing and keep believing.”
The University of San Diego enters the match with a 24-5 record. However, three of those losses came to teams who earned national seeds in the tournament. Those teams are No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 2 Minnesota and No. 13 Brigham Young University.
The only common opponent between the two schools is UC Santa Barbara, a team that swept Baylor in September but was swept by San Diego in turn.
San Diego enters the match with an attack percentage of 27.3 and out attacks its opponents by an average of 15 to 11 per set. Redshirt senior middle blocker Lisa Kramer is the primary focus of the Torero attack. She averages nearly four and a half kills per set and leads the team with 362 total kills. Senior middle blocker Lauren Schad, redshirt junior middle blocker Kaity Edwards and sophomore outside hitter Lauren Fuller have all recorded more than 200 kills this season as well.
The Toreros enter the NCAA Tournament for the 20th time and for the seventh consecutive season. This is not the case for Baylor, as this will the first trip for any of the players on Baylor’s roster, including senior setter Morgan Reed.
“Being here for four years, I haven’t had this feeling before. I’m so thrilled. Being a senior is just bittersweet,” Reed said. “This is the first time in four years that we’ve been called out. It’s just so exciting to have this opportunity to be in the tournament. All these girls mean so much to me. They’re family, and they mean the world to me.”
McGuyre said he will look to his leaders, Reed, redshirt junior Katie Staiger and his top defensive leader, junior libero Jana Brusek, to step up for the Bears to make the big plays.
Staiger, who was just named the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Year, leads the Bears with 612 kills and is ready for volleyball’s biggest stage.
“I’m so proud, I can’t even put it into words,” Staiger said. “No one has ever made any excuses. We’ve just shown up every day and worked hard. We’re starting to see it pay off. It’s so exciting.”
Regardless of the outcome, McGuyre said he is incredibly impressed with the team, the goals they have accomplished and the ones that can still be reached by producing a strong run in the NCAA tournament.
“I’m proud for these girls. I really wanted it to be the greatest volleyball experience ever for these girls here, and for them to have the opportunity to do some things that will never be repeated,” McGuyre said. “But also, just to know the investment and the work that they have put in is paying off, to get the reward of being able to travel and keep extending the season. I’m proud of them because they don’t quit. Win or lose, whatever’s going on, they’ve been very resilient this year. And looking forward to putting it all together for a great run.”
Baylor wasn’t the only Big 12 school that heard its name called Sunday evening. Texas Christian University, Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas and Kansas all received an invitation into the field of 64. Texas received the fourth overall national seed and will take on University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Kansas received the fifth seed and will host Samford, and Kansas State received the 14th seed and will face Lipscomb.
Baylor has not won an NCAA tournament game since 2009 and enters with a 5-10 record against teams in this year’s field. The match with San Diego will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Los Angeles. The winner will take on the winner of the nightcap between UCLA and Murray State.