Baylor Volleyball Earns NCAA Tournament Bid to Los Angeles

Posted at 9:54 PM, Nov 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-27 22:54:21-05

The Baylor volleyball team (21-11, 9-7 Big 12) secured the program’s fifth-ever NCAA Tournament berth, paired in the Los Angeles regional for the first and second round, hosted by the No. 10 UCLA Bruins. The Bears will face San Diego (24-5) on Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. CT/5:30 p.m. PT.

The Bruins (24-6) will follow with an 11 p.m. CT/9 p.m. PT matchup with Murray State (23-8), with TV designations still to be set.

Baylor finished one of the most successful seasons in program history, securing a fourth-place finish in Big 12 and the most overall wins since 2009.

"I’m really excited,” said second-year head coach Ryan McGuyre. “This team has been so special, so fun to be around. Some years, it’s just about wins and competition. This year, it’s about just extending the season because we’ve got a great group of girls. It’s just fun. We don’t want it to end."

Baylor has faced San Diego just once before, losing in four sets on Sep. 8, 1988 in San Diego. The Bears have faced the Bruins three times in previous years, with UCLA winning twice in Waco, but Baylor taking the most recent matchup, a Dec. 5, 2009 win to send the Bears to the program’s only Sweet 16 appearance in NCAA tournament play.

"[San Diego’s] a very good team,” said McGuyre. “They’ve had a great year. What makes competition and postseason fun is that everybody has been winning, so they know how to finish off sets. It kind of gives you that from the first serve all the way to the ball hitting the floor. Everything really counts, and that’s what we’ve had to do just to win some matches this year. Now, we’re playing teams with that similar type of charisma, so now it’s about executing and keep believing."

The first and second round play of the tournament bracket kicks off Thursday across the country, with teams fighting for a berth into the Regional rounds, hosted by the top seed in each region.

Baylor’s all-time NCAA record is 3-4, with the last tournament win for the Bears coming against UCLA in 2009.

The Bears have been paced this season by redshirt junior Katie Staiger, who set a new Baylor record for single-season kills, and posted the second-highest kill count in Big 12 history.

For Staiger and her teammates, the berth marks a first in their collegiate careers, continuing on a remarkable rebuilding process for the program.

“I’m so proud,” said Staiger. “I can’t even put it into words. No one has ever made any excuses. We’ve just shown up every day and worked hard. We’re starting to see it pay off. It’s so exciting.”

Despite losing two-time leading blocker, Tola Itiola, and 2015 All-Big 12 middle hitter, Shelly Fanning, before the season’s start, the Baylor squad managed to end the program’s postseason drought.

“Being here for four years, I haven’t had this feeling before,” said senior setter Morgan Reed. “I’m so thrilled. Being a senior is just bittersweet. This is the first time in four years that we’ve been called out. It’s just so exciting to have this opportunity to be in the tournament. All these girls mean so much to me. They’re family, and they mean the world to me.”

The last tournament berth for the Bears was in 2011, dropping in four to Michigan in the Stanford regional for the opening round.

"I’m very proud, I’m proud for the girls,” said McGuyre. “I really wanted it to be the greatest volleyball experience ever for these girls here. And for them to have the opportunity to do some things that are first, those will never be repeated. But also, just to know that the investment and the work that they put in is paying off, to get the reward of being able to travel and keep extending the season. I’m proud of them because they don’t quit. Win or lose, whatever’s going on, they’ve been very resilient this year. And looking forward to putting it all together for a great run"