Baylor volleyball advances to Elite Eight for first time in program history

Sophomore opposite Marieke van der Mark celebrates a kill with her team during Bayor's 3-1 victory over Purdue in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Friday at the Ferrell Center. Van der Mark scored a career-high 16 kills against the Boilermakers. Caleb Boren | Roundup Photographer

By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer, Video by Drake Toll | Broadcast Reporter

No. 1 Baylor volleyball moves on to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history after a four-set win (25-12, 23-25, 25-15, 25-17) Friday at the Ferrell Center against No. 16 Purdue.

Redshirt sophomore opposite hitter Marieke van der Mark continued her elite tournament run with a career-high 16 kills in the win. This was her third match in a row leading the team in kills after never leading a match before in her time at Baylor. Purdue head coach Dave Shondell said after the match that teams are going to need to start game-planning for her.

“Van der Mark has been going like this,” Shondell said as he motioned upward. “So anybody that’s in [Baylor’s] way from now on, I would suggest paying a little more attention to her.”

The Purdue defense spent most of the early match focusing on junior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley. She still put up numbers — the Player of the Year candidate posted 15 kills and three blocks — but her efficiency numbers were down from her usual levels.

Pressley hit just .194 with eight errors on 36 attempts, the lowest hitting percentage out of the five Bears who had at least 10 attempts. Purdue middle blocker Blake Mohler said the strategy has to be to take away Pressley first.

That strategy opens up lanes for Baylor’s other attackers to step up. Senior outside hitter Gia Milana earned 13 kills with just three errors. Redshirt senior middle blocker Shelley Stafford had nine kills with only one error. Head coach Ryan McGuyre said that this is the time of year where the team mentality pays off.

“We really just don’t want the season to end,” McGuyre said. “We love being together. We love training. We look forward to the challenges and difficulties that training brings … we’re just thinking about how we can love one another and get better and prepare for the next match.”

Baylor’s defense also stepped up against the Boilermakers. Senior libero Tara Wulf led the team with 14 digs, while freshman middle blocker Kara McGhee posted a game-high six blocks. Three other Bears also earned three blocks. McGhee said having good blockers on the other side of the net helps to drive good blocks for Baylor too.

“They have some great hitters,” McGhee said. “And we knew at the net that we needed to do our job so that we could freak them out a little bit and then also allow our passers to relax a little bit.”

The Bears dominated the service game as well, serving up eight aces compared to the Boilermakers’ two. McGuyre said Baylor’s play at the line has changed tremendously since the loss to Texas.

“We were accurate in the zones we were hitting,” McGuyre said. “And then, you know, it was one of those nights or mornings where when we missed some zones we got an ace. So things are flowing well for us and that’s credit to the girls.”

Baylor volleyball will play its final home match at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Ferrell Center against Washington for their first Regional Final in program history. The game will be aired on ESPNU and can be streamed on the ESPN app.