Bears mix five newcomers with one medical redshirt and 10 returnees. (Baylor Volleyball Facebook)
Bears mix five newcomers with one medical redshirt and 10 returnees. (Baylor Volleyball Facebook)

WACO – Baylor head volleyball coach Jim Barnes finalized the 2014 roster for release Friday, which includes 10 veterans for a team looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

The Bears went 12-20 last season with a 4-12 mark in the Big 12, but Barnes said he has high expectations for the 2014 group.

“We have a very deep and talented roster. This team has outstanding chemistry and works extremely hard. We will get great leadership from our four seniors, we are very athletic at each position and we have the power to kill the ball at both pins,” said Barnes.

In addition to 10 returnees, Baylor gets back redshirt freshman Katie Staiger, who led the team in kills through two matches, before tearing her ACL. Staiger retains all four years of eligibility after earning a medical redshirt and was a highly touted freshman coming into 2013 at outside hitter.

Andie Malloy will return to the Big 12 in a Baylor uniform in 2014 after transferring to BU from Iowa State in 2013. Malloy played the 2012 season for the Cyclones before transferring to Waco, which caused her to sit out a year due to Big 12 transfer rules. Over the summer Malloy is competing with a branch of the U.S. National Team in China. The outside hitter will have two seasons of eligibility remaining with Baylor beginning in the fall.

Three freshmen and a junior college transfer also join the Bears for the 2014 season. Keili Harrison comes to BU from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas and will suit up as a setter for Baylor with two years of eligibility remaining.

Chicago native Jana Brusek and New Braunfels, Texas native Ashley Myer join the team as freshmen liberos, and Neka Cuppetilli, also from New Braunfels, joins Baylor in the middle.
Among the 10 lettermen returning is Laura Jones, a junior outside hitter from Plano, Texas. Jones is Baylor’s leading returner in kills averaging 2.46 per set last season. Senior Nicole Bardaji joins Jones at outside and had 197 kills on the season last year.

In addition, Baylor had two setters see significant playing time in 2013 with junior Amy Rosenbaum and sophomore Morgan Reed splitting duties. Barnes said the team ran a 6-2 format in the spring season in anticipation of using both players effectively in 2014.

Thea Munch-Soegaard was a key contributor to the 2013 team, but injuries forced her to miss several games in the middle of the season, and then, the final 11 matches. Among returning players, Munch-Soegaard led the team in kills per set at 2.77, while mixing in 2.68 digs per set and 25 total blocks, proving to be one of Baylor’s better all-around players. The Amarillo, Texas native is entering her junior season in 2014.

Coming back at outside hitter are seniors Jordan Teel and Tori Cox, and back in the middle are junior Adrien Richburg and sophomores Sam Hill and Tola Itiola. Senior Hope Ogden is expected to step into the starting libero role in her final year with the team.

Barnes’ optimism for the Baylor team is based on experience through a rough 2013 season and vast improvement in the offseason. The Bears went 8-2 in the non-traditional spring season, and Barnes said the team’s level of confidence rose to new heights in anticipation of 2014.

“Offensively we could break most BU records. Our blocking ability is our biggest strength led by Tola [Itiola], Sam [Hill], and Adrien [Richburg]. I expect we will be solid as usual on the defensive side,” said Barnes. “We have three liberos that will be outstanding. Hope [Ogden] played at a very high level in the spring and freshman Jana Brusek is one of the most athletic liberos in the country.”

Baylor begins its season Aug. 29 at home vs. Abilene Christian at 7 p.m.