By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
For the second consecutive year, Baylor volleyball survived a five-set thriller against Washington State.
The Bears outhit a taller Cougars squad 67-50 and relied on its defense that recorded 76 digs as Baylor held on 23-25, 25-19, 26-24, 19-25, 15-12.
Baylor head coach Ryan McGuyre said that his team’s composure and discipline have made the difference in their ability to close out five-set wins.
“I love going to fifth sets. You’ve just got to enjoy them and play them. We have had a really good record with them,” McGuyre said. “At that point, it’s about who’s going to execute what they’re doing. For us, it always comes down to training. We made some great digs down the stretch. Our attack errors were limited in the fifth set. We had a lot of 50-50 balls that could have gone either way, but I thought our composure was the difference today.”
Coming off her impressive 13 kill in 17 attacks against UC-Santa Barbara, sophomore outside hitter Shelly Fanning was once again at the forefront of the Baylor attack. Fanning finished with 17 kills in 39 attacks but came up huge in the fifth set.
With the score tied at 12 in the decisive set, Fanning took it on herself to bring the Bears home with a win, converting three straight kills to close it out. The first one, Fanning went straight through the block, creating an error from the Cougars. Following a Washington State timeout, freshman Hannah Lockin delivered two sets right to Fanning that she put away for clean winners.
Fanning wasn’t the only one who began to find holes against the Cougars defense.
Redshirt senior outside hitter Katie Staiger added a double-double with 17 kills and 13 digs. After being named Big-12 defensive player of the week for her performance in the Hampton Inn & Suites Baylor Invitational, senior middle hitter Camryn Freiberg was a force to be reckoned with in the middle for the Bears, tallying 12 kills and hitting at a 38 percent clip.
It was this type of aggressive and efficient play in the middle from the Bears that McGuyre said was the difference.
“You’ve got to be excited about what we’re doing with our middles. Shelly and Camryn were both unstoppable, and I thought [Hannah] Lockin did a phenomenal job finding them and moving the ball around,” McGuyre said. “That’s normally the hard part. Now, we’ve got to get dialed in. We’ve got to be crisper on the pins. We really didn’t have a great attack, but we are doing the little things like playing defense and getting our middles going.”
But Baylor once again got off to a slow start and was forced to play from behind.
After dropping the opening set, Baylor began to find its game early in the second racing out to a seven point lead at 17-10 before holding off the Cougars 25-19.
In the third, Washintgton State held off two set points before Freiberg got loose in the middle for a kill and Brusek came up with the ace along the back line for the set win.
But the Cougars bounced back in the fourth using an 8-2 run to grab control of the set and then relied on a flourish of errors from Baylor to send the match to a fifth set where the Bears pulled it out.
Washington State head coach Jen Greeny was disappointed with the result but said that these types of matches will help her team as it heads into the Pac-12 conference.
“Baylor is definitely a fantastic team and this is a team like we will see in the Pac-12 Conference,” Greeny said on Washington State’s official athletic site. “So a lot of experience was gained tonight. Some good things and of course a lot of things to work on. But I thought the overall experience of a tight match and going five will pay dividends later on in the season.”
Baylor (3-1) will take on Quinnipiac as part of the Cougar Challenge at 7 p.m. tonight.