Story by Nathan Keil | Sports Editor, Video by Elisabeth Tharp
For the second straight year, Baylor volleyball saw a Pac-12 foe in the second round and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen on the line.
In 2016, it was UCLA in the Los Angeles regional, this time it was former Big 12 member Colorado in Waco.
Baylor was hoping to punch its ticket, but Colorado blitzed the Bears from the very first point and the Buffaloes ended the Bears’ season with a 3-0 sweep 25-12, 25-22, 25-20. Colorado will now meet No. 5 Nebraska next weekend in Lexington, Ky.
Senior outside hitter Katie Staiger said that losing doesn’t take away from the season that Baylor has had this year.
“Definitely disappointed the way it ended. We were just talking about it in the locker room, only one team really leaves smiling but we really did think we were going to go further so it is disappointing,” Staiger said. “Still so proud of this team, this program and the season we’ve had.”
Colorado hit .320 as a team while limiting Baylor to .161. Junior outside hitter Alexa Smith had 14 kills while making just one error and junior outside hitter Frankie Shebby added 11 kills and a team-high 14 digs.
It wasn’t just the effective hitting of the Buffaloes that was problematic, it was also Colorado’s dominance at the net, getting 13 points of the block, led by junior middle blocker Naghede Abu’s eight.
Baylor head coach Ryan McGuyre said that Colorado’s defensive approach really gave the Bears fits and they weren’t able to respond quick enough to make the adjustments they needed to make.
“I think they were taking specific spots away that kind of daring us to hit angles at certain times,” McGuyre said. “They did do a good job hiding their schemes, when they send a blocker helping out. I think we were a little bit slow recognizing those situations.”
As good as Colorado was, particularly early on, Baylor also continued to hurt itself with mistakes. The Bears committed 20 on the attack, but passes at times were not crisp. Baylor was called for multiple double hits and at times, the Bears did not communicate very well, as the Colorado hitters consistently found gaps in the Baylor defense.
The opening set started poorly for Baylor and didn’t get much better as it went on. Colorado hit .560 as a team, converting 16 kills in 25 attacks to run away with the opening set 25-12.
The Buffaloes raced out in front 8-2 following a Colorado ace. Colorado kept on the pressure, converting kill after kill and taking advantage of five Baylor errors.
Baylor did find momentum for a brief time, scoring four of five points, including a pair of kills from both redshirt sophomore middle hitter Shelly Fanning and freshman outside hitter Yossiana Pressley, but by that time the first set was long lost.
The second set started off a better note for Baylor, as Pressley opened the set with a kill, After going back and forth for a few points, Colorado began to seize control of the set.
The Buffaloes used a 6-3 run, sparked by a service ace and then a block at the net on the Baylor attack to build a 14-9 lead. But Baylor began to chip away, cutting the deficit to 16-14, forcing Colorado to use its first timeout of the match.
Baylor would tie it at 17 apiece, but Colorado would then again begin to build its lead at 24-21. Abu’s seventh kill of the match gave Colorado a two sets to none lead.
Baylor continued to battle in the third, getting four kills from senior middle hitter Camryn Freiberg to keep the Bears’ pulse alive.
Ultimately, Colorado was too strong, getting match point at 24-19. The Buffaloes ended the game the way they started it—with a block at the net.
Pressley led the Baylor offense with 14 kills and Fanning added 10 for the Bears.
Fanning said the seniors have been the heartbeat of Baylor all season long and their impact will not be forgotten.
“The seniors have seriously changed this program. I literally can’t put into words how much they meant to me and how much they meant to this program,” Fanning said. “They’re incredible athletes and so what they bring to this team athletically is incredible. But what they bring to this team off the court that I’ve never had on any other team.”