Set the pace: Seniors paved the way

No. 1 Baylor volleyball’s six seniors watch a highlight video as well as individual recognition videos by head coach Ryan McGuyre on Senior Day, Saturday at the Ferrell Center. Photo courtesy of Joshua Martin | Baylor Photography

By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer

Baylor volleyball’s senior class sat together Sunday night with their team, coaches and the entire volleyball crew to watch the NCAA Selection Show as a family. When the Bears popped up first, the entire house roared — not for the seed, but as a celebration of all the hard work it took to get there.

This is the winningest senior class in Baylor volleyball history. It’s not even particularly close. Fifth-year senior Shelly Stafford has played for head coach Ryan McGuyre from the beginning of his tenure. Tara Wulf, Braya Hunt, Nicole Thomas and Hannah Fluegel have each never missed a playoff in their time at Baylor. Gia Milana transferred in before last season and has been a major part of this team since.

Each player has their strengths. Each, of course, has their weaknesses. Each has a unique way of leading the Bears and helping them find success in their final year on campus.

While the team has had success over the previous three seasons, they aren’t done yet. Hunt said past seasons didn’t live up to their expectations.

“Fun. Not fulfilled,” Hunt said. “We’ve had the same culture here for the past four years, but I think we didn’t have all the pieces we needed and the grit that we needed. And so we had a good time, but we didn’t reach the potential that we knew that we had.”

Now, Baylor is on a quest for glory and greatness, with their first ever No. 1 ranking and No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Wulf said the pieces and mindset finally clicked together.

“What’s different about this year is just the way that this team trusts and loves each other,” Wulf said. “I think that our feeling is so much higher this year, and each one of us are bought in and believe it 100%.”

The senior class has been the driving force behind the buy in. While juniors Hannah Lockin and Yossiana Pressley get the bulk of media attention, the older players set the example. Stafford said it’s been the goal of the group to lead and be the backbone for the entire squad.

“I would describe us as … the rock for this program and this team,” Stafford said. “Just something that everyone can kind of come to look up to. We each bring different values to the team that other people are able to feed off of.”

The team has been together for months, and they’ve bonded in ways teams not connected through Christ would. Wulf said it’s been one of the best times of her life to be a part of this top-tier team.

“I would say just all the memories that we’ve created, especially this year — it just seems like we’ve made history together one day at a time,” Wulf said. “It’s just been fun — the bus trips, the away trips in the hotels, the team, the team getaways that we’ve had — just all those memories. I’m going to miss this for sure.”

The Bears and their seniors aren’t finished just yet. Baylor hosts Sacred Heart, Stephen F. Austin and USC in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament at the Ferrell Center. The Bears will face Sacred Heart at 7 p.m. Friday night.