By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
With its 19th sweep of the season, No. 1 Baylor volleyball clinched its first ever Big 12 Championship title. The Bears defeated TCU 25-19, 25-18, 25-14 Saturday at the Ferrell Center on Senior Day, finishing the regular season with a program-best 15-1 conference record and sharing the title with the No. 4 Texas Longhorns.
“It’s very unique,” head coach Ryan McGuyre said. “My goal each year is the greatest volleyball experience ever, and you heard me say that since Day One, and for these seniors we’ve really been able to increase that year by year. We’ve been able to celebrate and cherish the joy of celebrating a championship.”
The Horned Frogs made Baylor fight for the sweep as the Bears finished with a .248 hitting percentage but notched three aces to TCU’s two.
Junior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley led Baylor with 10 kills and fifth-year middle blocker Shelly Stafford executed nine. Senior outside hitter Gia Milana and sophomore opposite Marieke van der Mark gathered seven kills each.
Junior setter Hannah Lockin completed 29 assists and was one dig away from a double-double with nine. Senior defensive specialist Braya Hunt led the Bears in digs with 10 while freshman middle blocker Kara McGhee finished the day with seven blocks.
The Bears took off in the first set with a 6-1 lead, taking advantage of a few attack errors by the Horned Frogs and kills by Stafford and Pressley. Baylor grew its lead to 16-13 but TCU went on a run to bring the score within one point at 17-16.
A Pressley service ace took the set to 20-17 then McGhee and Lockin combined for a block at 22-17. Attack errors by TCU brought up set point for Baylor and after two kills by the Horned Frogs, Pressley closed out the set with a big swing.
Baylor cruised through the second set with .324 hit efficiency, taking a 14-9 lead on a 3-0 run. A Van der Mark block added to the Bears lead at 16-11 and the sophomore later made kill to bring up set point. Stafford executed the set-winning kill with a hit down the middle.
The third set was more of a challenge for the Bears. TCU struck first after which Baylor went on a 5-0 run and then a McGhee kill brought the score to 6-1. The Horned Frogs fought back, going on a 4-0 run to cut into Baylor’s lead at 11-9. The Bears held TCU at 20-13 on a McGhee kill. Milana set up championship point and then an attack error by the Horned Frogs notched the victory for Baylor at 25-14.
The Bears not only celebrated their first Big 12 title. They also honored the team’s six seniors.
Stafford, Milana, Hunt, libero Tara Wulf, middle blocker Nicole Thomas and setter Hannah Flugel were celebrated after the match.
According to Stafford, the Senior Day win meant a lot to the team.
“Words are hard to describe it , but I think Braya said it best when, ‘Every true and perfect gift is from the Lord,’ and I think this is one of those perfect gifts ,” Stafford said. “A Big 12 Championship, even though its not solely ours, it’s still truly a gift from the Lord.”
The Bears might have played their last conference match of the year, but their season isn’t done yet. As the nation’s top-ranked team, Baylor will most likely host the first and second round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed.
Wulf said the Bears are looking forward to the postseason.
“We’re not done,” Wulf said. “ We’re still hungry, and we’re going to re-dream the dream. We’re 0-0 now, so we’re ready to get after it.”