After Shelly Stafford smashed a spike through the middle of the Hawaii defense in the opening set, Hawaii coach Robyn Ah Mow swallowed a smirk and shook her head.
She said a lot in that little look, and spoke for many of Baylor’s volleyball foes in the process. The idea being – these women are frustratingly hard to stop.
With three players reaching double-digit kills, the fifth-ranked Bears pounded their way past No. 13 Hawaii, 25-19, 25-23, 25-22, on Sunday afternoon at the Ferrell Center. Baylor (9-0) tied a snazzy ribbon onto the end of the Baylor Classic, and knocked a second consecutive Top 25 opponent from the ranks of the unbeaten.
“To go undefeated was huge for us this week,” Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said. “We did it without dropping any sets, too. As much as there’s things to work on, we’re trending the right way.”
That’s an understatement. Baylor’s 9-0 start puts the Bears only two wins shy of matching the best opening to a season in program history, as the 2009 Bears under Jim Barnes started 11-0. The win over Hawaii also went in the books as the fifth over a ranked opponent this year.
“With each of these wins, playing great teams, we realize we have a lot to learn,” Stafford said. “Just taking a humble perspective, with every opponent we play. But especially great teams. There’s a lot to learn from them.”
The lesson the Bears gleaned from playing Hawaii (10-1) was this: When you spot a weakness, attack it.
The Bears found the soft underbelly of the Rainbow Wahine defense in the middle of the net, and capitalized with consistency. Setter Hannah Lockin routinely fed the ball to her middle blockers, Stafford (a season-high 18 kills) and freshman Kara McGhee (a career-high 11), and they responded with authority and precision. Stafford and McGhee combined for only five attacking errors in a total of 43 swings.
“It was kind of the story of the middles a little bit,” McGuyre said. “We had two middles, with Shelly, they couldn’t really stop her, and Kara coming up big. They couldn’t stop her. For them, their No. 3 (Amber Igiede), we were struggling to stop her. Disappointed in our defense, but excited about our offense.”
Both teams could have been charged with arson at the start, because they came out smoking. Hawaii hit .312 in the opening set, a number that would win many outings. But Baylor countered by tagging 20 kills in 36 attempts, with only three errors, for a sizzling .472 percentage.
The Bears managed to pull out the six-point win when Yossiana Pressley (19 kills) launched a laser off the fingers of the Hawaii blockers, as the ball ricocheted two rows deep into the stands.
In the second set, the Rainbow Wahine adjusted. They poked a couple of tips over the BU block in the early going, and displayed more aggressiveness overall, as they tried to stave off an 0-2 hole. They opened up a 17-10 advantage following a Skyler Williams kill.
However, Baylor showed some gumption of its own in battling back. Lockin blocked a Hawaii attack, Pressley soared for a sizzler, and then McGhee found a hole in the middle of the court to give the Bears some momentum. They eventually roared all the way back to take the lead at 22-20 following two straight Stafford kills. Then they finished off the set, 25-23, when Pressley ripped a cross-court winner from the pins.
“We’ve been consistent,” McGuyre said. “We haven’t rolled over in any sets. We got behind at Wisconsin, but we fought back, didn’t win (the set). Then, same deal, we fought back in the second set today. We all saw Hawaii and Missouri here, so to be up 2-0 is a lot different than 1-1.”
The match served up a variety of engaging rallies, and Baylor’s defenders used every part of their anatomy in keeping points alive. An elbow here, a fist (or two) there. McGuyre called them “crazy digs, fun digs,” and those hustling plays certainly added a level of enjoyment for the fans whenever the Bears were able to turn a save into an eventual point.
“We had some fun rallies, for sure,” Stafford said. “I think our defenders are digging for middles. I wouldn’t be able to get set if we didn’t get great digs to the net. A huge thanks to the defense, because that was fun. But we also had some really great, scrappy rallies which made it fun for the fans and fun for us to win those.”
BU senior Tara Wulf led all players with 16 digs, while Lockin contributed seven digs and two blocks to go with her 46 assists. Stafford threw a block party, finishing with six total blocks on the day.
Hawaii’s Hanna Hellvig topped the Rainbow Wahine with 12 kills, and Igiede tagged nine.
Baylor will try to finish its nonconference portion of the schedule undefeated when it hosts Texas State at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Then the Bears will flip their attention to Big 12 play, which starts Saturday at Kansas.
“We scheduled nonconference to get ready for postseason. We really want to give ourselves a great seed” McGuyre said. “We want to be in a position. We want to go deep in the tournament, and it’s one match at a time, 30 seconds at a time.
“But the schedule was to give us a taste of postseason. I feel as worn out as we are, we have to understand that we’re going to feel that way in December. Can we play great in that?”