No. 16 Baylor volleyball upsets defending national champs No. 3 Wisconsin

No. 16 Baylor volleyball snuck past No. 3 Wisconsin in the final set for its first win of the season. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics.

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

After falling to fifth-ranked Minnesota on Friday, No. 16 Baylor volleyball upset No. 3 Wisconsin, the defending national champions, 3-2 Saturday afternoon at the Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth. The match went the distance, as the Bears found their first win of the season after five sets: 21-25, 25-22, 26-24, 21-25, 15-12.

The Bears are the first squad to defeat the reigning national champion within a season’s first three matches since Stanford University went 0-3 in 2020 after winning in 2019.

“I’m extremely proud of the team,” head coach Ryan McGuyre said. “We grew up very fast tonight all the way around.”

Senior outside hitter Lauren Harrison led the way with 18 kills for the match, followed closely by redshirt freshman Riley Simpson, who had 16. Senior middle blockers Kara McGhee and Mallory Talbert threw a block party, recording eight and six blocks, respectively, while also adding a combined 17 kills. In the second match of her collegiate career, freshman setter Averi Carlson piled in 38 assists, seven digs and a well-timed ace.

Harrison combined for 36 kills between Friday and Saturday’s contests.

“It feels amazing,” Harrison said. “Honestly, being down yesterday and coming back and growing up really quickly feels amazing. Our energy from the get-go was E7.”

Baylor (1-1) was able to take an early lead thanks to multiple kills from Talbert. The McGhee sisters were active to help the Bears keep things close, but Wisconsin (1-1) managed to take a close first set.

Before the Badgers could get comfortable, the Bears bounced back in a big way. They were able to capture two consecutive sets to take a 2-1 lead, assisted by a breakout performance from Simpson. Alongside her was the veteran Harrison, who consistently executed on thunderous kills and several blocks.

“Riley Simpson did a great job,” McGuyre said. “As a freshman learning how to manage swings, get big kills at the right time. It was great to see Lauren Harrison really step up for us and carry us down the road to finish. Our coaching staff really did some exceptional things that helped our front row and also helped our back row. It’s a great team, a great program.”

Despite solid play, Baylor dropped the fourth set in a four-point loss. However, they held onto momentum going into the final set. In a game of inches, both teams scrapped to keep the score tight. Carlson’s quick dump to jump to a 11-10 lead ended up being the dagger. After Harrison brought the Bears into match-point, they were able to close things out and finish taking down the defending champs.

“I’m looking out there and we’ve got two freshmen and a sophomore as our primary passers, playing in a big atmosphere with a big crowd doing really good things,” McGuyre said. “Averi Carlson was stead for us. Our blocking and digging got a little bit better as the night came along.”

Up next, the Bears head to Malibu, Calif., to face Pepperdine University at 8 p.m. on Thursday in the Firestone Fieldhouse. The match comes as part of the annual Pepperdine Asics Classic.

Although the upset win over the Badgers, McGuyre said this team has lots to improve on. As each day goes by, he said the team’s mentality is to continue getting better.

“I still feel we’re going to be way better at the end of the year than where we are now. Our goal each day is to get better. We’ve said it for a while, but the best team wins the second night. It was good for us to adapt, especially after being down in the second set, and go make some plays.”

Harrison said the Fort Worth venue “felt like a home game” thanks to the Baylor fans in attendance. In her eyes, that support allowed the team to be able to execute to its fullest.

“We were firing on all cylinders and that really kept us over the edge and then blocking was amazing,” Harrison said. “It honestly felt like a home game, so shout out to the Baylor family.”