By Emilie Fogleman
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
For Baylor redshirt freshman Katie Staiger, sports have been a huge part of her life from a young age. Luckily for the Baylor coaching staff, volleyball was the one that stuck with Staiger.
“I probably started [playing volleyball] in the first grade with a recreational league,” Staiger said. “I kind of played every sport growing up with the same school friends. When I was about 14, I decided that volleyball was the sport that I was going to keep on playing.”
The outside hitter from Lewisville, Texas, had a stellar career during her high school years, helping lead Prestonwood Christian Academy to the state finals as a senior. As a member of Dallas Skyline 18 Roshambo, she was one of three outside hitters to earn All-American honors at the USA Junior National Championships. However, the success and awards are not her favorite side of playing volleyball.
“I love the game, but I also love the relationships that come through it,” Staiger said. “I’ve made such good friends through playing volleyball and had great coaches through club that helped me love the game even more. I love the feeling I get being out there.”
After leading the Bears in kills her first two games last season, Staiger went down at the end of the second match with a torn ACL. Having to miss the rest of the season was a challenge, but she refused to let her injury keep her down for long.
“It was really hard, physically and emotionally,” Staiger said. “God just really blessed me through it because everything went well. I grew a lot through it and gained a whole new view of the game itself. I ended up learning a lot from it.”
With her determination, Staiger recovered from her injury quickly and was eager to find her way back onto the court. For Baylor head coach Jim Barnes, getting a leader back after a rough 2013 season was exciting, but he wasn’t sure what to expect from Staiger.
“We weren’t really sure what to expect because her rehab had gone really well, going at record pace. Once she was back on the floor, we weren’t sure what she would bring,” Barnes said. “She has shocked everyone on how fast she came back. We had expected her to get her game really going by the middle of the season, but day one she was playing at a high level. She had been the most surprising recovery I’ve ever seen.”
Finally, the day Staiger had been waiting a year for arrived: Baylor’s first game of the season versus Abilene Christian, Aug. 29. The Bears swept the Wildcats in three sets as Staiger had two kills, six digs and one block assist.
“I was so excited to play my first game this season. I saw it as a whole new year. I remember being so excited because it was something that I had been waiting for, for so long,” Staiger said. “You play all the way through high school just like, ‘Oh, it’s another game.’ Now I’m excited just to be out there, and it means more.”
Staiger soon got her groove back, leading the Bears in kills eight times this season with a career-high 20 kills at Kansas State and against LSU. She is second on the team in kills with 226 and fifth in digs with 92. Barnes knows that this is just the beginning for Staiger, and that greater things are to come.
“I don’t think you can have a more important freshman. She is such a hardworking, selfless player that plays hard for the team,” Barnes said. “She is going to be an All-American before she is done here. That is just how good she is going to be, and she’s already doing it right now at not 100 percent. When she gets healthier she is going to show everyone just how good of a player she really is.”
Staiger has provided consistency for Baylor’s attack this season, being a go-to player when a point or more are needed. She couldn’t do it without her teammates, however.
“My teammates are also very consistent, so it provides less pressure,” Staiger said. “I know that if I am not able to put down the ball that they will. We have so much talent all the way across the board that it makes it easier on everyone knowing that they have each other to lean on.”
Even though she is one of the best on the team, Barnes said Staiger is still is one of the humblest players. Barnes said he believes that her selfless attitude will take her far.
“She was a part of a great club team while in high school where she was one of the best players in the nation, but you would never know it by just talking to her,” Barnes said. “She has such a great character. She plays for the team, never herself, and you can see that. Her character is unreal, and because of that she will do tremendous things in her four years here.”