By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
No. 1 Baylor volleyball heads off to Pittsburgh this week for a rematch with No. 4 Wisconsin in the fifth round of the NCAA tournamen and a chance to play in the championship match.
The Badgers are led by two First-Team All-Americans, setter Sydney Hilley who averages more than 12 assists per set, and 6-foot-8-inch middle blocker Dana Rettke who earns 3.8 kills per set and 1.5 blocks per set.
Wisconsin is 7-5 against ranked squads coming into the match Thursday night, with two losses to Washington and a loss to Baylor already in the books. The Bears are attempting to beat the Badgers for the third time in the past two seasons. Head coach Ryan McGuyre said seeing this team before can be a good and a bad thing.
“There’s that balance of we know we can beat them because it’s been done, but each time you play a team it’s going to get harder and harder to do that,” McGuyre said. “We’ll probably look at it kind of like conference … We’re both doing some things better than what we were, definitely, back in September, also doing some things differently.”
Baylor started the season with five straight road or neutral site matches against former tournament teams, so even though they haven’t had to travel since late November, McGuyre said his team is prepared to go on the road because they get along so well.
“I feel we’ve always traveled well because we’re together so much,” McGuyre said. “Some teams it drives you nuts and the chemistry isn’t there — girls get agitated with each other, but the more we’re together, the more we’re able to remind each other the best versions of each other … when we travel.”
The Bears have been preaching professionalism all season. From their 16-match opening win streak to their loss to Texas, it’s always been “one match at a time.” Senior defensive specialist Braya Hunt said the mindset doesn’t change even with the national spotlight.
“We always train one way to play in practice and in games,” Hunt said. “It’s been really cool this season to say national championship, final four, Big 12 Championship, over and over again, and we’re just praying that it continues to come true.”
And where Wisconsin earned two First-Team All-Americans, the Bears hauled in three of those honors. Fifth-year senior middle blocker Shelly Stafford, junior setter Hannah Lockin and junior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley all earned the top team honor in the country. McGuyre said the leaders of the team deserve the honor, but that it was a team effort to get them there.
“It is a proud and joyful moment to not only celebrate the accomplishment of these three athletes but to also celebrate the entire team that has helped these athletes achieve such incredible success,” McGuyre said. “Not only have these athletes achieved great heights as athletes, they are all selfless servants in their approach. I’m thankful for their blessing upon Baylor. It runs deep throughout our team in multiple ways.”
No. 1 Baylor volleyball will play No. 4 Wisconsin at 6 p.m. Thursday in Pittsburgh, Pa. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and streamed on the ESPN app.