Senior setter Sarah Baugh has led the Boise State volleyball team to No. 1 national rankings in kills and assists per set — a first in program history.
The Broncos hope that powerful offense will lead to more firsts this season, beginning Thursday night at Bronco Gym (7 p.m.). They’ll face No. 20 Colorado State, the six-time defending conference champion.
The second-place Broncos (14-6, 6-2 MW) never have beaten the Rams (15-3, 8-0) and need to pull the upset to have a chance at the conference title. The Rams won the first meeting this season in five sets in Fort Collins; the Broncos are 6-0 since.
“We’re as ready as we’ve ever been,” Baugh said. “Losing in five was tough, but it just proved how close we really are to being that good.”
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Baugh, who has developed from a part-time setter as a freshman and sophomore to the full-time setter as a junior and senior, directs the Broncos’ potent attack. She’s surrounded by young hitters and blockers who feed off her tenacity.
“It’s her leadership skills that have really made the difference for us,” coach Shawn Garus said. “She’s there day in and day out to push her teammates to be the best they can be, to get quality out of every touch in practice. She’s just raising the bar to a level we haven’t seen in this program before.”
Baugh was named the Mountain West offensive player of the week Monday. She ranks third in the nation with 12.18 assists per set.
Mild-mannered off the court, she’s “an animal” on the court, Garus said — willing to throw herself into the stands for a dig and leading the team in fist pumps.
“I’m pretty feisty,” Baugh said. “I like to win, so I’m going to tell you straight up how it is. But I’m also going to get really excited for the great things as well.”
Baugh benefits from a rising crop of attackers around her. Sophomore Sierra Nobley leads the Mountain West in kills (4.55 per set), sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Oliver ranks second in the MW in hitting percentage (.422) and freshman Sabryn Roberts has provided a spark with the third-most kills on the team.
“We’re young, we’re talented, we have lofty goals,” Garus said, “and one of those goals was to try to knock off Colorado State.”
In addition to the conference race, the Broncos need a win against the Rams to enhance their case for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. The Broncos are No. 53 in the RPI.
Third-place Wyoming (15-5, 5-3), which handed Boise State its other conference loss, visits at 2 p.m. Saturday.
It’s an important week for the Broncos — and one they hope generates some buzz about the improving program.
“In my seven years here and at least 10 years before that, there wasn’t an opportunity like this for Boise State volleyball — to have a ranked team coming to Boise with a legitimate chance to compete and have a signature win that could maybe propel you toward an NCAA tournament berth or conference championship,” Garus said. “So it’s huge.”
There are two Treasure Valley high school graduates on the roster: sophomore middle blocker Katie Elgan (Rocky Mountain) and sophomore libero Maddi Osburn (Vallivue).
Elgan is averaging 1.36 blocks per set and hitting .389, while Osburn leads the Broncos in digs with 4.43 a game (second in the Mountain West and 93rd nationally).