By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Unable to slow down Colorado's attack or hit around, through or over the Buffaloes' great wall of defense, the 12th-seeded Baylor volleyball team saw its season come to an end with a 3-0 loss in Saturday's second-round NCAA tournament matchup at the Ferrell Center.
Colorado (24-9), winning its first true road game in 15 tries in the NCAA tournament, out-blocked the Bears, 13.0-4.0, and hit a sizzling .320 while holding Baylor's attackers to a .161 percentage. The Buffaloes advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 20 years and will face fifth-seeded Nebraska next weekend in Lexington, Ky.
"Definitely disappointed in the way it ended," said senior outside hitter Katie Staiger, who became just the second player in program history to record 1,700 kills. "Only one team really leaves smiling, but we really did think we were going to go further. So, it was disappointing. But, still so proud of this team and this program and the season we've had and the history and legacy we've made."
Staiger and fellow seniors Tola Itiola, Jana Brusek and Camryn Freiberg definitely left their mark, leading the Bears (24-7) to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in school history and 46 wins over the last two seasons.
"The seniors, seriously, have changed this program," said sophomore middle blocker Shelly Fanning, who joined Freiberg and freshman Yossiana Pressley on the all-tournament team. "I literally can't put into words how much they've meant to me and how much they've meant to this program. . . . They're great people on and off the court, so those are big shoes to fill for next year."
Third-year head coach Ryan McGuyre said the seniors "have hearts that are just so inclined to see the beautiful amidst the disappointment and ugliness."
"That's how we persevered through injuries last year. That's a huge part of their legacy. When we eventually win it all, they'll be a big part of the foundation and message of lament. When we go to weddings and reunions, we're not going to remember the score in this match."
The Bears would just as soon put that score behind them in a hurry. Not only were they swept for just the third time all year, 25-12, 25-22, 25-20, they suffered their worst set loss of the season in the opening set.
"I thought our team played with incredible energy, especially leading into the match, the first set, the way we came out," Colorado coach Jesse Mahoney said. "We were firing on all cylinders offensively and definitely ahead of the play defensively."
Colorado never trailed in that opening set, jumping out to a 10-2 lead on back-to-back kills by 6-foot-4 middle blocker Naghede Abu, named the tournament's most outstanding player.
"We don't have to touch balls, but our blocks need to have an influence on what they're doing," McGuyre said. "(Colorado's) outsides took a couple swings early that I thought we should have dug and defended. But then they felt free to hit away. And then (Abu) was just kind of going over us. We were a little slow to adjust on slowing her at the net and being in the right spot to dig her."
With the Buffs three points from taking the first set, Baylor finally got into a little bit of an offensive rhythm with a 4-1 run and two kills apiece from Pressley and Fanning. Colorado closed it out with an Alexa Smith kill and the first of four ball-handling errors by freshman setter Hannah Lockin.
"I think the energy we had tonight was unlike any match we've ever played," said Smith, who had 14 kills to share match-high honors with Pressley. "We were obviously excited to play Baylor, because we knew they were such a good team. The atmosphere made it even better, but I think having the Sweet 16 on the line is really what energized us all."
Baylor was at least more competitive in a second set that featured eight ties, with the Bears nearly doubling their sideout percentage from the first set (.37 to .60) and holding the Buffs to a .257 attack percentage.
The last tie came at 19-19 on a Pressley kill, but Colorado scored six of the next nine points and took a 2-0 set lead on another Abu kill.
"I think they put up some great blocks and had people where they needed to be," said Fanning, who had 10 kills and combined on two of the Bears' four blocks. "We have a lot to learn, but we also could have capitalized on some of their weaknesses earlier. But, they're a good team, and we didn't do what we needed to do tonight."
With the Buffs putting up seven of their 13 blocks, they controlled the third set all the way and closed out the match in fitting fashion with Abu and Joslyn Hayes blocking an attack by Pressley on the outside.
"They were taking specific spots away, kind of daring us to hit angle at certain times," McGuyre said. "They do a good job hiding their schemes a little bit when they're sending a blocker or helping out. I think we were a little slow to recognize some of those situations. And then when we did have those opportunities, maybe the type of pass or dig didn't quite give us a chance to do what we needed to do."
Lockin had 34 assists and seven digs, while Aniah Philo posted a match-high 14 digs for the Bears.
"They have a couple of freshmen (Pressley and Lockin) that are going to be stars for years to come, and some great upperclassmen," Mahoney said. "Congratulations to Baylor for an amazing season. That was one of the best teams we have played all year. They should be really proud of their season."
WACO, Texas -- 12th-seeded Baylor volleyball (24-7) ended its unprecedented 2017 campaign in the NCAA Second Round with a 3-0 loss to Colorado (24-9) Saturday night at the Ferrell Center, 25-12, 25-22, 25-20.
The Bears were led offensively by Yossiana Pressley and Shelly Fanning, posting 14 and 10 kills, respectively. In the back row, Aniah Philo tied a match-high 14 digs for her second postseason double-digit dig effort.
Katie Staiger became the second player in program history to record 1,700 career kills at Baylor, finishing with one kill against the Buffaloes.
Baylor started slow in the opening frame, falling behind 8-2 after a Colorado service ace. Fanning snapped a 5-0 run with her first kill of the match, but Baylor was forced to play from behind with the Buffalo offense hitting .560. Baylor dropped its worst set loss of the season, 25-12.
BU tangled with CU to open the second set, but three Buffalo kills created some early separation and forced BU to take a timeout, trailing 14-9. Baylor went on a 3-0 run soon after that and pulled within two, but BU would fall just short and head into intermission with a 2-0 deficit.
Baylor jumped out to a 2-1 lead behind kills from Pressley and Tola Itiola, but the Bears couldn't hold up on the defensive end to fall into a 15-12 hole at the media timeout. Baylor held off a match point with its fourth block of the match before a Colorado block ended it in three sets, 25-20.
Yossiana Pressley tied a match-high 14 kills to lead the Bears.
Shelly Fanning had 10 kills on a team-best .368 hitting efficiency in the middle.
Aniah Philo tied a match-high 14 digs in the back row, leading the team with two double-digit dig performances in the NCAA Tournament.
Yossiana Pressley, Camryn Freiberg and Shelly Fanning were named to the All-Tournament Team.
Katie Staiger tallied her 1,700th career kill in the opening set, becoming the second Bear ever to accomplish that mark.
Seniors Camryn Freiberg and Tola Itiola combined for 10 kills in their final collegiate match.
BU advanced to the NCAA Second Round for the second consecutive year and moves to 2-2 in postseason matches under McGuyre.
BU is now 1-1 in postseason matches at the Ferrell Center.
Baylor is now 10-23 all-time against Colorado and 5-12 in Waco against the Buffaloes.
STAT OF THE MATCH
1,700 -- the career kill mark achieved by senior Katie Staiger during Saturday's match.
TOP QUOTE #1
"I'm not sure we had the chance to put pressure on Colorado since we were playing from behind most of the game. So, when it comes to volleyball, that was the match. I think their strengths were the right kind of strengths to win matches. I think they were taking specific spots away that dared us to hit angles at times, and I think we were a little slow to recognize those opportunities. Credit to their passing, we really didn't get after it enough on the surface line." -head coach Ryan McGuyre on the match
TOP QUOTE #2
"You don't want to compare, so to each season its own. You have 20 girls crying in the locker room because they're mourning. Not all teams are that way, some teams don't care and are happy the season is over. For us, we're family, and we just really wanted to extend the season. To know a beautiful part of our lives is over is disappointing, and it hurts. It's a discouragement. Disappointment is not the end of a journey but the start of something great. God has a beautiful way of turning painful memories into joy when we're attentive to what he's trying to have us learn. For these four seniors, their hearts are so inclined to see the beauty in the disappointment and ugliness. They've persevered through injuries last year. That's a huge part of their legacies. When we eventually do win it all, they'll be a part of that foundation and that message. When we get to go to weddings and reunions, we're not going to remember the score of this match." -McGuyre on how this team compares to other teams he's coached
Baylor ends its 2017 season with a 24-7 overall record.