Pioneers outlast BU in five-set victory

Story by Sara Bell, Editor

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The Baker University volleyball team had its eyes set on one thing Tuesday — staying perfect in the Heart of America Athletic Conference.

The only problem: No. 6 MidAmerica Nazarene University had the same goal in mind.

Prior to the match, both teams had 5-0 conference records, and the winner would likely seal the regular season championship.

It appeared as though the Wildcats would be able to complete the upset in Collins Center, taking a 2-0 match lead. However, the 20-1 Pioneers stole momentum in the third set and never looked back.

In the match opener, the Wildcats jumped out to a 10-2 lead behind the performance of a combination of players. Freshman setter Hannah Bettge, who had 43 assists on the night, utilized the team’s top hitters. During the match, sophomore Danielle French and junior Shannon McCarty had 12 kills apiece, and senior Crystal Simon followed with 11. By keeping the Pioneers guessing, BU took the first set 25-22.

Baker trailed by a few points for most of the second set, but the team broke through when it mattered most. Tied at 23-23, the energy from the standing-room-only crowd helped BU seal a 25-23 set victory.

Baker hosted its annual breast cancer awareness promotion during the rivalry match, and head coach Kathy Allen was touched by the attendance.

“It’s rewarding and wonderful to see such a big crowd supporting Baker volleyball and supporting the fight against breast cancer at the same time,” Allen said.

Between the second and third set, Allen took a moment to honor those who have been affected by breast cancer. Katie Jaschke, an alumna of the volleyball program who began chemotherapy Wednesday, was the guest of honor.

At 27 years old, Jaschke was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the donations collected during the game went toward the 2008 alumna’s medical bills.

“It’s so great to go to a small school because after five years of being gone I still feel like I have a family here at Baker,” Jaschke said. “I can’t say enough about the volleyball team, and coach Allen and the university as a whole. It’s just wonderful.”

The teams returned to action following the ceremony, but the momentum shifted.

The Pioneers emerged from the locker room with a new energy, taking the third set 25-21.

Junior Zoraida Heredia powered the MNU offense with a season-high 19 kills. The Pioneers had two others turn in double-digit kills, while everyone else recorded three or fewer.

In the fourth set, MidAmerica Nazarene showed why it’s a top 10 team, defeating Baker 25-14. The Wildcats fought back in the final set, going point for point with MNU. However, the Pioneers outlasted Baker and remained perfect with a 17-15 victory.

With three regular season games remaining, Baker has a chance to claim the No. 2 spot in the conference. During a six-day break, the Wildcats are going to concentrate on what they know best — themselves.

“We are just going to keep focused, and working hard, and doing as well as we can and worrying about what we can control,” Bettge said in an interview with KNBU-FM.

On Tuesday, Baker will host Evangel University at 7 p.m. in Collins Center. The Crusaders are 4-2 in the conference, but BU may have a tough time against freshman Morgan Kensinger, who leads the HAAC in blocks.

Following Evangel, Baker will close out the season against the 8-18 Benedictine College Ravens and Central Methodist University, who is 2-4 in conference play.