Finding balance between faith, athletics

Baylor volleyball gathers together in prayer after its regional semifinal win over Washington in the Ferrell Center on Dec. 14, 2019. Caleb Boren | Roundup Photographer

By Stasya Hopp | Reporter

With incredibly busy schedules full of practices, games, workouts, classes, tutoring, volunteering and the need to sleep and socialize, balancing faith and athletics is no easy task.

But keeping that balance is one of the elements that defines Baylor’s volleyball program.

Senior setter/defensive specialist Braya Hunt said the Baylor volleyball team made it easy to make faith a priority because of the love they have shown her, and the faith of the players is something that sets them apart from other programs.

“The team chemistry that we have far exceeds us being friends,” Hunt said. “We are sisters. Not just sisters on this side of eternity, but for all of eternity.”

Hunt recalled older players taking her under their wing and spending intentional time with her when she arrived at Baylor. In the same way, the upperclassmen this year have tried to guide the younger players. Freshman middle back Kara McGhee said that Hunt, among some of her other teammates, helped her get plugged into a church and gave her the chance to grow relationally and spiritually.

McGhee said that playing for “an audience of one” is one of the reasons the team performs with a sense of ease on the court, because they aren’t playing for themselves.

“It’s why I play,” McGhee said. “It helps us be successful because there’s not a lot of pressure when you’re serving God.”

Junior opposite hitter Marieke van der Mark said she wasn’t a Christian when she came to Baylor, but thanks to her teammates and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and committed her life to Christ during her freshman year. Van der Mark said her teammates poured into her, and care about each other on and off the court. The sophomore from the Netherlands writes the number one on her wrist before every game as a little reminder that she is playing for an audience of one.

Like Van der Mark, other members of the team find little things throughout their days to keep in touch with their faith. This is something they do together and indivudually. Hunt, McGhee and Van der Mark all said they have reminders for daily Bible verses on their phones, and all make it a goal to spend time with their Bibles after morning practices or lifts. McGhee said she tries to set out time for reading Scripture in the morning to make the “first thing the most important thing” she does every day. According to the freshman middle blocker, “faith is everything” in the team’s culture and dynamic. 

The team prays before every practice and every game, trying to spend time with God while they are doing what they love.

“We’re not forced into anything,” Van der Mark said. “It’s one hundred percent a choice that we make ourselves.”

Baylor volleyball had the opportunity to serve others and grow closer as a team through a mission trip to Kenya prior to last year’s season, as well as a team retreat they took outside College Station. Hunt said this retreat was when she knew their team would not be shaken and that they would have an impact that season. During this trip, the seniors prayed for their teammates and each other.

“[It was] super special to have people that I knew wanted Christ to be at the center just as much as I did,”Hunt said.

Senior middle back Nicole Thomas baptized three of the players during this retreat and Van der Mark recalls this as the moment when she knew how amazing her team was and realized how different Baylor was from any other school.

Van der Mark said that it’s not difficult to balance faith with what they do everyday because they use what they do to grow in their faith.

“It doesn’t matter if you want to skateboard for the rest of your life or if you want to be a doctor,” Van der Mark said. “God wants to use you to the full regardless of where you are.”