Baylor's age blend seems ripe for state volleyball success

Baylor's age blend seems ripe for state volleyball success

October 22nd, 2013 by Kelley Smiddie in Sports - Preps

Local teams in TSSAA state tournament

Wednesday's Schedule

(All times EDT)

• Class AAA at MTSU Court 2: 2:30-Siegel vs. Ooltewah (winner plays again at 5:30, loser at 8:30)

• Class AA at MTSU Court 1: 11:30-Crockett County vs. Signal Mountain (winner plays again at 4, loser at 7); 2:30-Red Bank vs. Page (winner plays again at 5:30, loser at 8:30)

• Class A at Siegel: 11:30-Eagleville vs. Boyd-Buchanan (winner plays again at 4, loser at 7)

• Division II-AA at Blackman: 1:30-Baylor vs. St. Benedict (loser plays again at 6; winner plays Thursday at Stewarts Creek at 12:30)

Gabby Gray (10) and Jane Wilson (4) are two of the Baylor freshmen who have made big contributions for the Lady Red Raiders going into the state tournament this week in Murfreesboro.

Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press.

Baylor teammates cheer after winning a point during the Division II-AA state volleyball quarterfinal between Briarcrest Christian and the Baylor School at Baylor on Saturday in Chattanooga.

Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press.

All the elements have seemed to come together in 2013 for Baylor's volleyball team.

Eighteen-year-olds and 14-year-olds may normally be worlds apart in social settings. But on the court, the Lady Red Raiders' blend of youth and experience has helped them achieve great things.

Baylor (39-7) is one of four remaining teams in Division II-AA about to compete in the TSSAA state tournament starting Wednesday. The Lady Raiders face St. Benedict (25-16) at Blackman High School at 1:30 p.m. EDT.

Four local teams are among the 24 Division I teams that also qualified for the state tournament, which concludes with Friday's championship matches.

Baylor entered this season off two third-place finishes and a second in the last three years.

Outside hitter Rachel Ford, who is second on this year's team in kills (427) and aces (96) and is third in digs (335), was on all of those teams. She said she was skeptical about this year's team - until seeing the incoming group in preseason practice.

"They were excited about all the talent coming in and were thinking, 'We could do something with this group,'" coach Sarah Lail said of her seniors, the others being Greyson Ingle and Kate Kaufman. "It's been the best chemistry on any team I've had in my five years here, and it shows. We have the best record we've had in my five years."

The freshman class consists of outside hitter Gabby Gray, libero Lilly Turner and middle blocker Jane Wilson - each of whom leads the Lady Raiders in a statistical category. Gray leads with 611 kills, Turner has 572 digs and Wilson, the daughter of headmaster Scott Wilson, has 53 blocks.

"We knew it was going to be really different," Gray said. "We knew there was going to be a lot of older people on the team. I thought the upperclassmen were very accepting and helped us fit into the team. We just wanted to help us reach our full potential as a team."

Gray added that the elder Lady Raiders fully represent the term "student-athlete."

"They're really great leaders," Gray said. "They've set a great example. They've got really good character on the court and off the court."

In turn, Ford said the freshmen have shown some leadership skills of their own. In all, the mix has worked well.

"I don't feel like anything but friends anymore," Ford said. "It feels like we're just one big team."

The classes in between have contributed significantly, too. Sophomore Haven Bethune, a server and back-row player last year, moved into the setter's role and has produced 1,399 assists and another team high with 100 aces.

Juniors Cassie Elrod and Lexy Hellerstedt have made contributions as a defensive specialist and a right-side hitter, respectively. Even eighth-grader Sarah Sumida is fourth on the team with 52 aces.

But despite who's putting up the statistics, the seniors are seemingly setting the standard with their team-player attitudes. Ingle is content sharing the middle with Wilson. Kaufman, whose future at the college level will be as a pole-vaulter, has a broken finger but continues showing up.

"Rachel is kind of our leader on the court with her skill," Lail said. "Greyson knows when to be serious, but she also brings a funny, light attitude. When everything starts getting tight, she's the one that's going to make you smile. Kate's the one that shows you this is how hard you go; this is how you practice."

The Lady Raiders went undefeated this year in East/Middle Region matches and also went undefeated at home. They'd love to go 3-0 this week in Murfreesboro but would settle for something-and-1 in the double-elimination format.

"We've already accomplished so much with just our region games," Ford said. "I never thought we'd go undefeated. I think we can go on to do anything we want, as long as we keep working together and keep our chemistry the way it is now."

Contact Kelley Smiddie at ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.