By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
No. 1 Baylor volleyball finished off the first weekend of NCAA tournament play undefeated Saturday with a sweep (25-23, 25-17, 25-22) over Southern California. The Bears were outhit in the first set but managed to stay in the game and kept the momentum rolling for a three-set win.
Baylor hit above-average in the first frame at .379, but they were outdone handily by the Women of Troy at .469. The Bears saved the set with incredible serving, dishing out five aces. Baylor finished with eight serving aces on the night, led by senior defensive specialist Braya Hunt with two. Head coach Ryan McGuyre said the serve saved the team.
“It was fortunate our serve kind of brought us back into the match in that first set,” McGuyre said. “I thought it started with Braya serving and it was contagious after that.”
Sophomore opposite hitter Marieke van der Mark had another career night in the win, earning 13 kills on a .706 clip. She also came up with three blocks and a rendition of the “Cha Cha Slide” dance on the service line. McGuyre said he expects his opposite hitter to excel the rest of the way.
“Marieke van der Mark grew up tonight as an MVP for these past two matches,” McGuyre said. “I think she’s crossed over where she’s a gamer and just loved how she played and that consistency really was, I thought, the difference in the match.”
Fifth-year senior Shelly Stafford also kept the offense rolling, supplying 12 kills on a .733 percentage with two blocks and an ace. Now moving on to the Sweet 16 for the first time under McGuyre, the middle blocker said there’s no feeling like the one after this win.
“It’s just pure joy,” Stafford said. “Like, we had an awesome celebration in the locker room that I’ll be able to cherish forever … We’re not done yet. We have a lot of work to be done, and we just have a lot to learn from wins like these.”
With two wins under the team’s belt, Baylor now moves on to face Purdue in the third-round matchup. Given that USC has held up against teams like Stanford and Washington, when head coach Brent Crouch said he expects to succeed, it carries weight.
“When they pass the ball well, they’re an exceptional offensive team,” Crouch said. “You know, they run a really fast offense and they have lots of options … I think they’ll go far. Hats off to Baylor, they did a nice job.”
No. 1 Baylor will move on to the next round against No. 16 Purdue on Friday, time yet to be determined, in the Ferrell Center. The winner of that matchup will play either No. 9 Kentucky or No. 8 Washington. The games will be aired on the ESPN family of networks and the app.