By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Back in August, when Ryan McGuyre said the Baylor volleyball team "will be a lot better in December than we are now," he wasn't counting on having All-American outside hitter Katie Staiger out of the lineup for most of November.
But amazingly, the 19th-ranked Bears (21-5, 11-2) have been at their best during a five-match winning streak that included Saturday's sweep of then-No. 11 Kansas in Lawrence. Staiger didn't play at all in the first four - all sweeps - and took a total of three swings against the Jayhawks.
"Even through the second round (of conference), we've been able to add some wrinkles and things that are different," McGuyre said. "(Staiger's injury) opened the door for what (freshman Yossiana Pressley) has done, taking a lot of swings on the outside; and Tola (Itiola) making some significant blocks for us. Fortunately, or unfortunately, injuries can be the best light bulb for me in making some subs. We're playing well, and I like where we're headed."
Looking to extend their winning streak and break the program record for consecutive sets won (17), the Bears host Kansas State (9-17, 2-11) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in a match that will be televised by FOX Sports Southwest.
"Whenever you work hard and do good things, good things are going to happen," sophomore middle blocker Shelly Fanning said. "I don't think we planned to not drop any sets, but that's a new dream that we're going to hope to live out to finish the season."
The road sweep of Kansas lifted Baylor into outright second place in the Big 12 standings, two back of second-ranked Texas (21-2, 13-0) with three to play. If the Longhorns drop one of their next two, including Wednesday's home match against No. 16 Kansas, the Bears could play for at least a share of the conference title next Saturday, Nov. 25.
"We can only control what we can control," McGuyre said. "But, Senior Night, for our girls to have the opportunity to play for something special, to play for a Big 12 championship, that's certainly our desire. Hats off to Texas, they've been rolling through teams. They keep teasing us with some of these five-setters, but winners win."
That's what Baylor has done, especially over this latest five-match run. Pressley has been dominant at outside hitter, nabbing three straight Big 12 Offensive and Freshman of the Week honors. She had 19 kills and a .410 attack percentage in the win over Kansas.
"Yossi's been huge," McGuyre said. "It's no surprise. We knew what we were getting in her. The surprises, I think, were for her, the challenges and how difficult this game can be. Obviously, moving back to a more comfortable position (helped), but I think it's sharpened her having to figure out the right side. Now, she approaches the game a lot differently."
Trying to recover from a stress reaction in her right foot, Staiger has the "green light" to play in matches, but the "day-to-day practice stuff, we're being very mindful of it," McGuyre said.
"We could let her loose and she could go play (Wednesday), but we want to look at it," he said. "Lord willing, after conference, we're going to be playing Friday-Saturday, back-to-back type of deals (in the NCAA tournament). And we want to see what we can do to make sure she's ready to do that."
Kansas State has dropped eight in a row since a 3-2 win over Texas Tech on Oct. 7, but the Wildcats have gone to five sets six times in league play, including a 3-2 loss to Texas on Nov. 1 in Manhattan.
"It's been one of our goals to be a very mature team," McGuyre said. "We know we can't be anxious or worried about the future, but focus on what we can do to prepare today. There are no bad teams in the Big 12, we've been saying that from the start."
WACO, Texas -- No. 19 Baylor volleyball (21-5, 11-2 Big 12) looks to set a new program record Wednesday night as it hosts Kansas State (9-17, 2-11 Big 12) at 6 p.m. CT inside the Ferrell Center.
The matchup will be live on Fox Sports Southwest with John Morris (play-by-play) and Alex Banister (color analyst) on the call.
Baylor looks for a sweep as the team is on the brink of breaking the program record for consecutive sets won. Sitting at 15, a three-set sweep would move the total to 18.
The Bears have the chance to sweep the season series against the Wildcats for the first time since 2010. A win would keep BU on pace for their highest Big 12 finish in program history.
Fans can follow the action with the team's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts: @BaylorVball.
BEARS RISE TO NO. 19 IN LATEST AVCA RANKINGS
After a top-15 win on the road last Saturday, Baylor volleyball jumped to No. 19 in the AVCA Division I Coaches Poll Top 25 Poll Monday afternoon.
The Bears are ranked for the 26th time in program history. The No. 19 ranking is a season high mark for the 2017 squad.
The 2017 Bears are the first Baylor team since 2009 to make an appearance in the poll. During that season, BU was ranked for 10 straight weeks and peaked at No. 17, which still stands as the program-high ranking in the 35-year history of the AVCA poll.
Baylor has recorded wins over four ranked opponents this season, besting then-No. 10 BYU in five sets on Sept. 9, sweeping then-No. 20 Iowa State in Ames on Oct. 4, sweeping then-No. 19 Iowa State in Waco on Nov. 4 and most recently taking down then-No. 11 Kansas in straight sets last Saturday.
Baylor is the third-highest ranked Big 12 team behind No. 2 Texas and No. 16 Kansas.
This is the sixth-straight week that the Bears are ranked under third-year head coach Ryan McGuyre.
As a ranked team, the Bears are 6-1 this season and have only lost to 11th-ranked Kansas.
CHASING HISTORY...ONE MATCH AT A TIME
Baylor is currently on a 15-set winning streak, sweeping its past five opponents. BU looks to grab ahold of the all-time program record Wednesday night.
From Sept. 19-Oct. 7, 2009, BU won 17 consecutive sets. A sweep over the Wildcats Wednesday night would break the current record.
The Bears are on the brink of having their highest finish in Big 12 play in program history. Currently sitting in second place with three games left, BU can lock up at least a share of second place with two victories this week.
Their highest Big 12 finish is tied for 4th in 2009 and 2016.
Baylor is two matches behind first-place Texas, and both teams will face each other in the regular season finale on Nov. 25.
HOME SWEET HOME
With an 11-2 record at home, the Bears have matched last season's home win total and look to match the most wins at home since 2008 when Baylor hosts Kansas State on Wednesday.
The Bears are 5-1 at home during conference play, sweeping their last two Big 12 opponents in Waco.
BU has not lost to an unranked team at home since Nov. 23, 2016 where the Bears fell in five to Iowa State.
Baylor is currently 32-11 (.744) at home under third-year head coach Ryan McGuyre.
Coming into Wednesday's match, Baylor is seventh-best in the NCAA in kills per set (14.61) and eighth in assists per set (13.76).
Baylor has won at least 20 matches in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1992-93 seasons. Last year's team finished at 22-12.
BU has won 15 consecutive sets in conference play, two sets shy of tying a program record (17).
BU won 16 of its last 18 matches dating back to Sept. 9. The team has only dropped matches to No. 3 Texas and No. 11 Kansas in that time span. Baylor is 8-0 when hitting .300 or better this season, including 5-0 in conference play.
BU is 16-0 when holding opponents to below a .200 hitting percentage.
BU has six players with double-digit aces (Fanning, Staiger, Lockin, Pressley, Brusek and Philo).
Baylor is 15-0 when leading in blocks this season, 5-4 when trailing and 1-1 when tied.
As an outside hitter, Aniah Philo has 21 double-digit dig performances.
Baylor has only trailed in team kills three times this season (at Hawai'i, at Texas, vs. Kansas), and been outdug twice (vs. then-No. 15 Florida State, vs. Kansas).
Baylor is 12-2 in three-set matches and 7-1 in four-set matches.
BU VS. KANSAS STATE HISTORICALLY
The Bears look their fourth win in five matches against the Wildcats and third straight in Waco.
In the team's 2016 conference opener, BU swept the Wildcats. Katie Staiger had 23 kills to lead all players. It was also head coach Ryan McGuyre's first win over a ranked opponent with the program. K-State was ranked No. 23 at the time.
Under third-year head coach Ryan McGuyre, the Bears are 3-2 against the Wildcats and are 2-0 in Waco.
Last time they met, Yossiana Pressley set a career-high 20 kills in the Bears' 3-1 win in Manhattan. Aniah Philo posted a career-high 23 digs as well.
PRESSLEY & FANNING HELP BAYLOR SWEEP BIG 12 WEEKLY AWARDS
For the first time in program history, Baylor volleyball swept the Big 12's weekly awards, announced by the conference office Monday afternoon.
Freshman outside hitter Yossiana Pressley was named the Offensive Player and Freshman of the Week for the third-straight week while redshirt sophomore middle hitter Shelly Fanning was named the Defensive Player of the Week.
Baylor is the first Big 12 school to sweep all three awards since No. 10, 2014 where Kansas took home every honor.
Pressley is the only freshman to earn four offensive honors and three straight in Big 12 history. Fanning earns her second career weekly honor from the conference as she was named Rookie of the Week on Sept. 21, 2015.
The 2017 squad now has a program-record 13 honors in a single season, surpassing last season's program-high total of eight.
In the Bears' Saturday victory over then-No. 11 Kansas, Pressley had a match-high 19 kills on a .410 attack clip. She led the league in points per set (7.00) for the third consecutive week.
Fanning matched a career-high eight blocks against the Jayhawks, helping BU post a .126 opponent hitting percentage last week. She also produced 12 kills, four digs and two aces in the win.
STAIGER TABBED SENIOR CLASS AWARD FINALIST
Baylor volleyball senior outside hitter Katie Staiger was named one of 10 finalists for the 2017 Senior CLASS Award, Premier Sports Management announced last Thursday.
To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.
Fan votes count for one-third of the overall total. Fans can vote at seniorclassaward.com/vote.
BRUSEK MOVING UP CAREER DIGS LIST
Senior Jana Brusek is moving on up the Baylor career digs list during a successful four-year career in Waco. Coming into Wednesday's match with 1,563 career digs, the Chicago, Ill. native has posted 23 double-digit dig performances and 373 digs this season.
Brusek is 13 digs shy of passing Cory Sivertson (1991-94) for the No. 2 spot with 1,576.
CAREER MILESTONE WATCH
Freshman Hannah Lockin surpassed the 1,000 career assists mark with a 40-assist performance against then-No. 19 Iowa State last Saturday. She currently has 1,061 in her first season in Waco.
Katie Staiger is 20 kills shy of 1,700 career kills at Baylor. She would be only the second Baylor player to accomplish this feat.
Head coach Ryan McGuyre is five victories away from his 400th career win, currently sitting at 395 career wins.