By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor, Video by Drake Toll
No. 1-seeded Baylor volleyball continues to make history, advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time. After a four-set win over Purdue, the Bears will battle against a gritty eighth-seeded Washington for a ticket to Pittsburg, Pa. and the Final Four.
“We’ve just set our minds on Pittsburg, and we have two great opponents out there that want the same thing,” Baylor head coach Ryan McGuyre said before the Huskies faced No. 9 Kentucky.
The Bears dropped only their twelfth set of the 2019 season to the Boilermakers but were able to grab the final two thanks to strong serving and clean play. Baylor completed eight aces with senior libero Tara Wulf executing half of that total, and only committed four errors in the last two frames after a nine-error second set.
“If Baylor is going to play the way they played today, they are going to have a hard time being beat,” Purdue head coach Dave Shondell said.
The Boilermakers tried to limit junior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley, focusing their blocking on the Big 12 Player of the Year, but that opened up the avenues for sophomore opposite Marieke van der Mark and senior outside hitter Gia Milana, both with career matches on the day. Van der Mark led all scorers with 16 kills, followed by Pressley’s 15 and Milana’s 13. And if senior middle blocker Shelly Stafford would have had the opportunity for one kill, Baylor would have had four players in double-digits.
“They are a very physical , well-skilled, well-coached team that a lot of people have an impression that they are a two-horse operation, but they have a lot of arsenal,” Shondell said. “When you play a team that has a lot of talent and the number one ranked team in the country in their gym, you have to hope that not everyone is going to play at a high level against you.”
Washington also had to fight through four sets to get the victory. After a sloppy first set, the Wildcats stormed back and made the Huskies work for a 26-24 win in the second frame before they claimed the third set 25-15.
Both teams were pretty evenly matched with the score tied 11 times during the final frame. With the score tied at 21-21, Washington went on a 4-1 run to finish the match 25-22 thanks to a kill by sophomore setter Ella May Powell.
The Huskies were led by senior outside hitter Kara Bajema, who was two kills shy of her career high with 24, and hit .400 on 45 attempts.
No. 1 Baylor and No. 8-seeded Washington will compete for the Regional title at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center. The match will be broadcast on ESPNU with Sam Gore and Katie George on the call.