Over the past two months, it’s become apparent that Baylor’s volleyball team has climbed aboard the elevator to the NCAA’s elite.
But what the Bears discovered on Wednesday is that Kansas is already there, well-entrenched in the penthouse.
The 11th-ranked Jayhawks spurned the 24th-ranked Bears’ bid at an upset, registering 11.5 blocks in a 25-14, 25-22, 25-14 win at the Ferrell Center. Kansas (17-3 overall, 6-1 in Big 12) assembled a forceful roadblock to the Bears’ momentum, snapping Baylor’s overall winning streak at four and the team’s home winning streak at a program-best nine.
“Absolutely disappointed,” Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said. “We’re so much better than what we (showed). Kansas was very, very sharp, so they didn’t give us anything or make it easy for us to do it. But it just wasn’t Baylor volleyball tonight.”
Kansas definitely showed that the Bears (16-5, 6-2) still have much work to do before they can contend with the Big 12’s top dogs. At times, it felt as though the Jayhawks had seven players on the court to the Bears’ six, as they consistently kept rallies going with digs that displayed an economy of movement. In fact, the soundtrack for the match should have been the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive,” as they withstood many of Baylor’s kill attempts.
“I think if you look at the top two teams in the conference, Kansas and Texas, it’s always about managing your swings,” McGuyre said. “You can not kill it every time, but you want to be disruptive enough to where you get it back so you can maybe swing away on the next one. That’s where they really outshined us tonight.”
Kansas senior Madison Rigdon was the beneficiary of many of those passes staying alive, as the Pflugerville native pounded a match-best 18 kills on .417 hitting. Jada Burse added 11 kills.
Kansas was so dominant that it didn’t even matter that its usual top swatter, Kelsie Payne, had a quiet night with just two kills.
Baylor’s top player Katie Staiger endured a particularly frustrating night. Time and time again, the Big 12 leader in kills couldn’t squeeze her spikes through the ever-present blockers of Kansas. Staiger recorded eight kills in 29 swings with nine errors, finishing with a negative .034 hitting percentage.
But Staiger didn’t get much help, either. The Jayhawks also neutralized Shelly Fanning and Yossiana Pressley, who combined for nine kills in 39 attempts. Baylor’s most efficient hitter on the night was Aniah Philo, who typically does most of her damage with back-row defense. Yet Philo, who is blessed with an impressive vertical leap, finished with a team-high nine kills on .185 hitting.
Baylor put together a stretch of crisper play in the second set, but still had to fight the Jayhawks tooth and nail for points. The teams were tied at 21 after Pressley hung in the air and flicked a kill through the attempted block of the Jayhawks. But then the poised Jayhawks surged in front, winning four of the next points to take the set, with Payne providing the clincher on a chopping swat down the middle of the court.
Then the Jayhawks, like sharks smelling blood in the water, ravaged the Bears in the third and final set. They fittingly closed it out with a block on the final point.
For Baylor, it was a humbling reminder of the work that lies ahead.
“They’ve heard it – win or lose, we’re only as good as our last match,” McGuyre said. “I’m still very excited about our future. I just know how much better we can get, so I’m looking forward to the second half (of conference play), so we can start unraveling some things. But we got punched in the face tonight. It’s a little bit of a character check.”