When University of Idaho junior outside hitter Allison (Walker) Baker says it’s important to “make this season the best,” she means every word.
As the Western Athletic Conference kills leader playing on a title-contending team, Baker is on her way to being selected first-team All-WAC for the third consecutive season. At her current pace, the 6-foot-1 Othello, Wash., native would finish at or near the top of several UI single-season and career records lists. Baker would have a chance next season to become the first four-time, first-team all-conference player in school history.
Baker has considered all of the above and is planning to bypass her senior season. Married roughly four months ago, Baker wants to begin another chapter of her life. She redshirted as a freshman and she’s on pace to earn her general studies degree in May.
“Those (career highlights) are a good accomplishment, but I can’t take all the credit. I’ve had really good coaches and obviously my teammates,” Baker said. “This was never an easy decision. It’s a hard decision. Volleyball has been a big part of my life and it was always my goal to play in college. Obviously, I did get married and maybe I’m just ready to move on with that part of my life.”
Baker added that “my coaches and my dad definitely like to think there’s a lot of wiggle room (with her decision). There’s maybe some as the season goes on.”
Baker leads the WAC in double-doubles with 13. Her 4.46 kills per set ranks 13th nationally. She’s already 11th on Idaho’s career kills list with 1,174. Haley Larsen, Idaho’s all-time career kills leader, is the school’s only four-time all conference selection. She was second-team All-WAC as a freshman in 2005.
“Allison is potentially one of the best all-time players,” Vandals coach Debbie Buchanan said.
The Vandals (9-10, 7-2), riding a six-match winning streak, are tied for second with New Mexico State entering Thursday’s showdown with first-place Utah State (13-7, 8-2) at Memorial Gym.
Baker has been a force with double-digit kills in 35 consecutive matches, dating back to last season. She has cut down on hitting errors and has a “great tip-and-roll shot where she can go up and disguise it pretty well,” Buchanan said.
“The thing is she’s still getting better, still learning the game better and that’s shown up in her defense,” Buchanan said. “There have been times where she’s kept us in matches because of her defensive efforts more than offensively.”
Baker takes pride in being an all-around player. She said a WAC championship is “what we’ve been working for every day in practice. This weekend is really important. From here on out, every game is going to matter.”
Gonzaga (9-11, 1-6) has dropped four consecutive matches, three to teams in the WCC’s top four. The Bulldogs entertain Loyola Marymount on Thursday and 24th-ranked Pepperdine on Saturday.
“We have to look at this match in the eyes of having five freshmen start and play the entire match,” fourth-year head coach Dave Gantt said after Saturday’s loss to Saint Mary’s. “We got to witness how a young team responds in different situations.”
Washington State (10-10, 0-8) returns home still in search of its first Pac-12 victory. The Cougars entertain Cal on Friday and No. 2 Stanford on Sunday. WSU hasn’t defeated Cal or Stanford since 2002. The WSU-Stanford match will be televised on Pac-12 Networks. … North Idaho College (17-3, 4-3 SWAC) entertains rival College of Southern Idaho (22-1, 7-0) Friday night. CSI was third in the latest NJCAA rankings; NIC sixth. … Community Colleges of Spokane pulled into a second-place tie in the NWAACC East with Walla Walla after sweeping the Warriors last week. CCS entertains Big Bend tonight and Treasure Valley on Friday. … Whitworth has played four straight five-set matches, including Saturday’s victory over No. 13 Puget Sound that avenged a 3-0 loss to the Loggers last month. “We are a very good team, and we’re finding out just how good now that we are healthy,” coach Steve Rupe said.