Tough schedule served to ‘Cats volleyball team

Story by Kyle Davis

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With a record-setting 32-4 record hanging in the rearview mirror, the Baker University volleyball team is about to drive through another season, with a trip to nationals being the ultimate destination.

The road will not be easy early on as Baker starts its year against some of the toughest competition in the country.

Head coach Kathy Allen said the team’s strength of schedule last season kept it from breaking into the NAIA top 25. The team should not have the same problem this season.

“We’re going out there to find out really where we do fit,” Allen said. “You can’t get a real realistic picture of where you fit without comparing yourself directly with some of the best teams in the nation. Our expectations are to go out there and to try real hard to win, and if we don’t, to have a good showing and see where we fit in the top 25 in the NAIA.”

The Wildcats open the season at the Point Loma Tournament Friday in San Diego, and came into the year with intentions of playing some of the best teams in the country, which is exactly what Baker will do.

Baker will face California Baptist University, ranked No. 3 in the NAIA preseason poll, in the first match of the season, followed by a match against Point Loma Nazarene University, No. 14 in the poll, later in the day.

The next day of the tournament doesn’t get any easier, as the Wildcats match up against San Diego Christian University, the only team Baker will face that is not in the top 25, before playing the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, Concordia University in California.

Junior Brooke Allen views the tough early competition as an advantage for the end of the season.

“When you start with the better competition at the beginning of the year, that’s going to help you at the end of the year to fight harder and to play better, and that will be when we need to perform to make it to nationals,” Brooke Allen said.

The Wildcats only lost one starter, Nikki Anderson, from last year’s record-setting team and return a veteran team led by Pryor, last year’s HAAC Player of the Year, and Brooke Allen, HAAC’s Libero of the Year.

“(Pryor and Brooke Allen) are definitely the leaders from a standpoint of admiration, respect,” Kathy Allen said.

Baker also begins the year picked second in the preseason HAAC ratings, only behind Lindenwood University.

With the bar being set high after last season, Baker is looking to have a similar result this year, although the difficult schedule will provide a challenge to repeat the 32-4 record.

“We would like the end result to be in that HAAC championship, and that sort of thing will be our goal, but we also know that with our strength of schedule, we’re not probably going to end up with the same record,” senior Brooke Pryor said. “Just going out there and competing against those top-ranked teams is going to be a goal in itself.”

For Pryor, an All-American and conference player of the year, one accomplishment has stood outside of her grasp, which she believes could change in her final season.

“I think that this team is my opportunity to get that HAAC Championship, so I’m really excited,” Pryor said. “It’s kind of bittersweet, but I am really looking forward to ending on an awesome note.”