Volleyball gears up for top 25 matchup

Junior outside hitter Aniah Philo dives for a ball in a four set win against Kansas State. Philo had a career-high 23 digs against the Wildcats. Courtesy of Sabrina Cline, K-State Collegian

By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor

No. 24 Baylor volleyball (16-4, 6-1) looks to extend its winning streak to five straight when it will host its second top 25 team this season in No. 11 Kansas (16-3, 6-1) Wednesday night at the Ferrell Center.

The Bears lost to then No. 14 Florida State in four sets on Aug. 25 in front of a record crowd of 3,044, but since then have reeled off nine straight at the Ferrell Center.

For redshirt senior outside hitter Katie Staiger, fan and community support can help make the difference in a big matchup.

“I know for Florida State, it was as packed as it’s ever been and just playing in front of that big of a crowd for my first time was awesome,” Staiger said. “We’d love to have that many people if not more at the Kansas game on Wednesday.”

Baylor enters the match coming off a four set win Saturday at Kansas State and one that saw freshman outside hitter Yossiana Pressley tally a career-high 20 kills.

Baylor head coach Ryan McGuyre said that Pressley’s and freshman setter Hannah Lockin’s play has been crucial to the team’s success, but that there is still another level that they can reach.

“We’ve got two freshmen and it’s not like we have a senior setter telling a freshman hitter, ‘Here’s what you’re doing wrong, here’s what you need to do.’ Katie is able to give some great feedback to Hannah Lockin. ‘Hey, we can run this and do this in certain situations.’ They’re kind of both deferring to each other and to the coaches,” McGuyre said. “Yossi still has a lot more to showcase this year and in the future and I’m excited to see it.”

It hasn’t just been Staiger or Pressley that have led Baylor to this path of national recognition, it has been a collective, balanced team effort.

In the middle of the attack, redshirt sophomore hitter Shelly Fanning and senior middle hitter Camryn Freiberg are hitting efficiently at 39 and 37 percent. Junior outside hitter Aniah Philo has done a little bit of everything. She leads the team with 18 aces from the service line, contributes two kills per set, and is second on the team in digs with 291, including a career-high 23 against Kansas State.

Staiger, who still leads the team with 329 kills on the season, good for 4.3 per set, said that the balanced attack is helping Baylor be a team that is difficult for any team to prepare for.

“I feel like when we are playing as one team, we just have so much coming from different areas. Hannah Lockin is doing a great job running the offense, spreading the ball around,” Staiger said. “We talk that it doesn’t matter who they are keying on. If they are keying on me, we have people who can put the ball away. If they key on someone else, I get a more open shot. We’re just playing to win and its awesome that we can do it from so many different angles.”

Not only has Baylor found success with a balanced attack, but so has Kansas. The Jayhawks are led by senior right side hitter Kelsie Payne and senior outside hitter Madison Rigdon, who have 310 and 269 kills this season. Rigdon also, is a gambler on her serve, leading the team with 23 aces, but also has 25 service errors.

The matchup will pit two of the top three hitting teams in the Big 12 against each other, with Baylor hitting .284 as a team and Kansas hitting .277. Baylor also leads the conference in assists at nearly 15 per set, kills per set at 15.

Baylor has the advantage on the defense end though, as the Bears lead the conference in opponent hitting percentage, limiting teams to just .169 on the attack and ranking second in digs at nearly 16 per set.

The stats and the attention are the result of the team’s consistent approach, according to McGuyre. When the team has this mindset, the girls experience joy and multiply it.

“I like our consistency, our approach. The way the girls are approaching each match, we’re not too far ahead, we’re not dwelling on the past. We are enjoying being in the moment in difficult atmospheres,” McGuyre said. “We’re trying to multiply joy and there’s a lot of things to be thankful here at Baylor. As we play well, I think the girls feel the pleasure of glorifying God.”

The Bears and Jayhawks meet for the first time this season at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Ferrell Center.