By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
Baylor volleyball returns home this week, bringing the West Virginia Mountaineers to town for a pair of matches at the Ferrell Center. West Virginia is currently tied for third in the Big 12, just one spot behind Baylor.
That gap is larger than it sounds, though, as the Bears currently sit at 9-1 and the Mountaineers are 5-3 on the season.
In last week’s matches against Iowa State, Baylor was able to sweep both nights, doing so for only the second time this fall. Bringing a higher level of play in the first match has been one of coach Ryan McGuyre’s points of emphasis all season, and the Bears were able to do so in Ames, Iowa. Redshirt freshman Campbell Bowden said the team had a discussion prior to playing the Cyclones about pushing each other to another level.
“We all discussed, that, in order to be the best team that we can be, it starts with just playing together as a team and family,” Bowden said. “And so we had that discussion in the locker room before the game with the coaches, and I think the coaches and teammates did a great job of getting us fired up and excited.”
Another bright spot from Baylor’s trip to Iowa was the team’s defense. The Bears totaled 20 blocks across two matches, their highest total against one team all season. Fourteen of those blocks came from sophomore middle blocker Kara McGhee, named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week. McGhee joined Laché Harper and Shanel Bramschreiber as the third consecutive Baylor player to win the award.
“It shows that we’ve been working really hard and that we’ve been very successful defensively,” McGhee said.
While McGhee’s award is technically an individual honor, she said the team as a whole is the driving force behind Baylor’s award-winning defensive performances.
“When I block next to Marieke [van der Mark] and Marieke gets the block, that counts for me too, 100%,” McGhee said. “We all needed to be on for me to be able to be in a position where I could’ve gotten that award, so I definitely did not do it on my own, and when one person gets honored, the whole team is honored.”
Looking at West Virginia, Baylor knows some of what they can expect from the Mountaineers.
“They’re a really good team who does a lot of different things offensively, so we’re really focusing in on how we transition and adjust to what they do offensively,” McGhee said.
That focus has brought results in practice. McGuyre said he thinks the Bears might look better than they have all year.
“Monday was the best practice we’ve had out of the year,” McGuyre said. “We’re always trying to get one degree better, and the consistency is the goal, and we were not as consistent as we can be, but we were more consistent than we’ve been.”
West Virginia poses a new challenge for Baylor, as this will be the first ranked team Baylor has seen since traveling to Lawrence to play then-No.9 Kansas. Baylor went 1-1 against the Jayhawks, who have since failed to live up to that lofty ranking, but the No.15 Mountaineers have been competitive all season, and will no doubt provide a worthy opponent in Waco.
“They’ve always been really good, actually, and I’d say maybe underachiever a little bit,” McGuyre said. “They got some firepower on the outside, they got some length in the middle, they did graduate a good opposite, so I think they’ve been able to stay healthy for the most part . . . That momentum is helping them carry on.”
Baylor’s matchups with West Virginia will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday and 5 p.m. on Friday. Thursday’s match will be broadcast on ESPNU, while Friday’s will be available on Big 12 Now and ESPN+.