Baldwin -- Baker University's volleyball team capped a breakthrough season by wrapping up its home and regular season conference schedule Tuesday night with a victory over William Jewell.
Baker defeated the Cardinals 15-4, 15-6, 15-7 in three straight games at Collins Center on Senior Night to run its record to 23-9 overall. The Wildcats finished fourth in the Heart of America Athletic Conference with a 5-4 mark.
"I'm really happy with the way this team has played all season," said second-year head coach Kathy Allen. "We've definitely made some strides, and there isn't any doubt that our program is improving. I think that with the base we've established that our program will only continue to improve."
Just two seasons removed from a 3-21 record in 1997, Baker's young team of one senior, one junior, two sophomores and eight freshmen has emerged as a contender in the conference. Baker's four conference losses this season have come to teams with a combined record of 92-36, and most of the team's nine losses have come to nationally ranked opponents.
"I knew this team was going to be really good going into the season," Allen said. "Even though we had a very young team on paper, I felt like these players had a great deal of maturity."
With all but one player returning next season, the future looks bright for the Wildcat program.
The one player Baker must replace, however, is senior Jessica Walters. The team captain in both 1998 and 1999, Walters is the top hitter in BU history and was the No. 1 hitter in the NAIA last season with 5.3 kills per game.
"We're certainly going to miss Jessica," Allen said. "She's a big loss because of the amount of talent and work ethic she has brought to our team. She's provided a tremendous example for our underclassmen and she has been an outstanding leader."
Baker has also benefitted from the play of setter Emilie Hoffner. The 5-foot-2 sophomore from Ault, Colo., was named setter of the week in HAAC on Monday. Hoffner averaged 12.1 assists as Baker went 3-1 last week.
Hoffner also had a 97.1 service percentage on 70 serves, five aces, 35 digs, five blocks and 12 kills.
The Wildcat volleyball squad will begin postseason play next week following the Bellevue Invitational.
Allen said the team likely will face MidAmerica Nazarene University in its first game of the tournament. The Pioneers enter with a 16-12 record and defeated the Wildcats in Baldwin earlier this season.
"I feel like we should be able to beat them this time," Allen said. "We've improved a lot since that game."
Baker's women retained their national ranking week with an eighth place finish at the Olivet Nazarene University Midwest Classic in Kankakee, Ill., last Saturday.
Liesel Kirk was the top finisher for Baker in 10th place with a time of 18:47. Morgan Ouimette was 23rd with a time of 19:09.
Baker is ranked No. 25 in the nation and will compete at the HAAC Championships Nov. 6 at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa.
For the second-straight year, Lindenwood University defeated the Wildcats in a key HAAC contest by a score of 1-0. Lindenwood scored its lone goal Sunday more than halfway through the second half and dealt Baker a loss on its home turf at the North Park Soccer Field.
With the win, the No. 5-ranked Lions all but clinched the regular season conference title and home field advantage in the HAAC tournament next week. Baker drops to 4-1 in the HAAC and 12-6 overall.
Baker has a 6-7-3 record after losing to two nationally-ranked opponents last week.
Baker dropped a 2-0 decision to No. 2 Lindsey Wilson College Friday in Atlanta. Baker then lost to No. 13 Life University, 2-0, Saturday night. The men will conclude their conference season with home games against Missouri Valley at 3 p.m. today and Culver-Stockton at noon on Saturday.