Volleyball faces tough road test at Kansas

Story by Ben Everett | Sports Editor, Video by Julia Lawrenz | Broadcast Reporter

No. 23-ranked Baylor volleyball looks to move above .500 in Big 12 Conference play when they face Kansas at 1 p.m. Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.

The Bears (10-5, 2-2) took a week off after defeating Oklahoma 3-1 on Sept. 28 at the Ferrell Center. Head coach Ryan McGuyre said the Bears needed a break after a rocky start to their conference schedule.

“Breaks are always good,” McGuyre said. “I think rest is a gift we should take advantage of whenever it’s given to us. The timing is good for us just to get dialed in and line things up.”

In the win over the Sooners, the Bears had three players, including junior outside hitter Gia Milana, record double-digit kills while the team hit .253 overall. McGuyre said the team succeeded in spreading the wealth in their fifth-straight win over Oklahoma.

“We were able to move the ball around really well,” McGuyre said. “Really loved what Gia [Milana] did in that match on the right side. She hit a high percentage and we were able to be effective because we were able to mix it up in that match.”

In the Bears’ matchup against No. 4-ranked Texas on Sept. 26, the Longhorns dominated en route to a 3-0 win. Baylor junior libero Tara Wulf said the matchup against the Sooners provided a confidence booster for the Bears following a tough loss in Austin.

“I think in the Oklahoma match we found our flow,” Wulf said. “That was awesome because we knew we had it in us. If we can just keep that flow and keep that energy going then we will do big things this season. The break is awesome always because we want to go hard in the gym. When we’re not playing we always want to be practicing to get better.”

Baylor will face a Kansas team that is undefeated in conference, owning 3-2 wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma and a 3-1 win over TCU. McGuyre said the Jayhawks are a tough team to beat on their home court and the duo-setter lineup of senior Gabby Simpson and freshman Camryn Ennis is a difficult matchup.

“Kansas is really good at home,” McGuyre said. “They can elevate and bring the heat. Blocking-wise, you’ve got to be really strong. Because they hit so hard you’ve got to pick your spots well. Against others you might have time to adjust or react to balls. They don’t do that … Their offense is unique. They have two very capable setters. They switch back and forth between them. [Gabby Simpson] is a big strong physical lefty. She can swing … Kansas at home will never give up. They’re a good, strong championship program.”

Simpson has 85 kills and 183 assists on the season and Ennis leads the team with 336 assists. Junior outside hitter Jada Burse leads the team with 182 kills.

The Bears are led by sophomore outside hitter Yossiana Pressley. Pressley is fourth in the nation in total kills with 313 and leads the team with 5.57 points per set. Wulf leads the way on defense with 234 digs.

Milana recorded a season-high 14 kills in the win over Oklahoma and Wulf said she expects the Maryland transfer to continue to improve.

“Gia [Milana] was a perfect match,” Wulf said. “Ever since she went on her visit, we all knew that this was home for her. Even if she didn’t know it yet, we were like, ‘She’s coming to Baylor’ … She’s been stepping up 1 percent better in every single match. I just can’t wait to see her potential and her roof is getting higher and higher.”

The Bears are looking for back-to-back wins against the Jayhawks for the first time since 2011 and back-to-back road wins over Kansas for the first time since 1998.

Milana said the Bears are capable of beating any team in the country if they can smooth over some of their inconsistencies.

“I feel like the thing with us is being able to practice intentionally and being able to take the most out of that skill and potential that we have and translate that onto the court in matches,” Milana said. “We always have confidence that we can play with the best teams. We just always have to have that standard and hold it high to ourselves to be able to play that way all the time … I think that once we get all these little holes filled in we can really be large competitors in the tournament.”