Volleyball flexes its muscles in weekend sweeps of Illinois State and UC-Santa Barbara

Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Shelly Fanning scores a point against an energetic UCSB team. Photo credit: Will Barksdale

By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor

Baylor volleyball wasn’t happy with its performance on Friday against Florida State and refused to make the same mistake twice.

Baylor may have come up empty in its first opportunity to beat a quality opponent, but it took advantage the rest of the weekend, flexing its muscles in sweeping Illinois State 25-9, 25-15, 25-19 on Saturday and the University of California-Santa Barbara 25-19, 25-12, 25-14 on Sunday.

After compiling 40 errors, 16 from the service line, in a four-set loss to the Seminoles on Friday, Baylor overcame the mistakes and displayed its depth, easily winning its final two matches of the Hampton Inn & Suites Baylor Invitational on Saturday and Sunday.

Unfortunately for Baylor, it won’t have the opportunity for revenge on Florida State until the postseason, should both teams make it. But head coach Ryan McGuyre said that doesn’t erase the feeling of knowing it let one slip away.

“It was only disappointing that we didn’t play like that the night before. Had we played like that, I honestly think we would have swept Florida State, a good team in three,” McGuyre said. “We were able to showcase a little bit more of what we’re capable of. We were more efficient from the service line, better with our touches and got our middles going. We responded. But against Florida State, there were a lot of little things that we didn’t like about it.”

In its win on Saturday against Illinois State, Baylor took advantage of the Redbirds early and often, building big leads in the first two sets to gain control of the match.

The Bears used a 10-2 run to close out the first and used a 9-1 run to start the second to bury the Redbirds early.

Baylor led the way from start to finish in the third set, pushing its largest lead to seven points at 21-14 before closing out Illinois State 25-19.

Redshirt senior outside hitter Katie Staiger led the way again for the Bears, tallying 14 kills. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Shelly Fanning and senior outside hitter Camryn Freiberg added nine and eight kills respectively, while freshman outside hitter Yossiana Pressley chipped in with seven.

Freshman setter Hannah Lockin looked comfortable once again, assisting on 38 of Baylor’s 43 kills. Junior outside hitter Aniah Philo anchored the defense for Baylor, finishing with 18 digs.

On Sunday, Baylor displayed its depth in dismantling UCSB. The Gauchos limited Staiger to a season-low eight kills in 30 total attacks with four errors, but the Bears refused to concede and instead relied on their plethora of heavy hitters to keep the Gauchos on the defense.

Fanning was the catalyst, playing the middle of the court. She connected for 13 kills in 17 attacks without an error, good for a 76 percent hitting clip, which ranks fourth in program history in a three-set match.

Even following a dynamic individual effort, Fanning still credits a team effort for putting her in position to succeed.

“It’s definitely exciting being out with a group of back-row players who can give a hittable ball for us to transition and hit,” Fanning said. “It’s definitely a team effort.“

Fanning won’t be the only name that the Gauchos won’t be able to get out of their heads as they fly back to California. Pressley once again showed why she remains a top threat in McGuyre’s starting lineup, adding 13 kills while nearly jumping out of her shoes at times. The sheer power of her swings knocked the Gauchos back and kept on their heels even when they were able to make a play on them.

The combination of Fanning, Pressley and Freiberg hitting from all directions was too much for Santa Barbara to withstand.

After playing the first 35 points of the match back and forth, Baylor found its rhythm and it started with Fanning’s aggressive play in the middle. Freiberg sealed the opening set with her first kill, a laser down the center of the court.

Fanning continued to shine in the second, putting away six kills, including the final three points of the set. Staiger was also able to find a bit of room to operate, tallying four kills in the set.

The final set yielded the same results for Baylor, as it wore Santa Barbara down as the set went on. The Gauchos were able to keep it close, tying the set at nine apiece, but a 16-5 run from that point forward ended any chance of a Santa Barbara miracle rally.

Philo, as shown in the first few matches, once again found herself as the catalyst for Baylor runs from the service line, serving out the final four points for the Bears.

Philo put together an all-around effort, tallying five kills and 12 digs to complement her tricky serve. It is this complete all-around game that makes her so valuable, according to McGuyre.

“There’s a reason we start with her back there,” McGuyre said. “Her serve is strong and effective. She can hit her spots. She’s a great defender. She follows up good serves with her defense. She plays middle back as good as anybody in the country. When she’s serving, you’ve got Katie front row, Yossi front row, Camryn or Tola front row, so you’ve got three pretty dynamic hitters.”

After finishing 2-1 in the tournament, Baylor had three earn all-tournament honors in Lockin for best setter, Fanning for best attacker and Freiberg for best blocker.

Florida State finished 3-0 as its senior outside hitter Natasha Calkins earned tournament MVP. Illinois State’s junior defensive specialist Courtney Pence rounded out the award winners by taking best defender honors. The Redbirds finished 1-2 while UC-Santa Barbara went 0-3.

Baylor will now head west to participate in the Cougar Challenge beginning Thursday. The Bears will meet Washington State (1-0) at 10 p.m. Thursday in Pullman, Wash.