Last year’s Baylor volleyball team, the one that went 29-2 and was so powerful all season long as it made a run to the NCAA national semifinals, was loaded.
Even the leader, Ryan McGuyre, was our coach of the year.
Under the radar, seemingly for much of the season, was the skinny Dutch right side, 6-foot-6 Marieke van der Mark.
She averaged 4.76 kills per match for Baylor’s first 26 matches, but it was evident she was getting better as the season progressed.
“It was building,” McGuyre said.
And then Baylor started NCAA Tournament play and the college volleyball world took notices of not only the numbers, but the incredible enthusiasm van der Mark put forth. What’s more, she’s got a great shot at getting onto the Dutch national team.
We’ll get back to van der Mark in a bit, but first a quick catchup on NCAA Division I volleyball, which includes Baylor wrapping up its fall season with back-to-back home matches Friday and Saturday against Kansas State.
The Sun Belt Confererence finishes pool play Friday in Foley, Alabama, with two tournament semifinal spots on the line. Coastal Carolina and Little Rock clinched the other semifinal berths Thursday.
There are three other matches in the Big 12 on Friday. West Virginia is back at Oklahoma and Texas Tech returns to Kansas, while Iowa State goes to TCU.
Thursday’s recaps and more on the SBC follow.
Back to van der Mark and that incredible run she made as a sophomore to finish 2019.
In a first-round sweep of Sacred Heart, van der Mark had 13 kills with one error in 20 swings and two blocks. Then in a sweep of USC, she had 13 kills with one error in 17 swings and three more blocks.
“I think I realized that every single match we played could be our last match. And I loved playing with all those seniors and felt like someone had to step up and it felt like it was my job to do,” van der Mark said.
“During the last part of the season I think they started trusting me more and setting me more balls. I felt more trust from the setter and the coaching staff and feeling the trust made me better, too.”
There was plenty of reason by then to trust her. In a four-victory over Purdue, van der Mark led Baylor with 16 kills as she hit .464. It continued against Washington when she had nine kills with no errors in 16 attacks and two blocks in a four-set win that propelled the Bears to their first final four.
Baylor as a whole got a bit of a comeuppance in the semifinals against Wisconsin. Pressley led with 25 kills, but the Bears didn’t get much going offensively, including van der Mark, who had eight kills, hit .182, and no blocks.
But clearly she had taken a spot on center stage.
She grew up in Papendrecht, The Netherlands, near Rotterdam.
van der Mark never played basketball. Both her parents, 6-foot-8 Harm and 6-3 Cindy — played volleyball.
“She’s a good volleyball player from a good volleyball family and has the drive,” McGuyre said.
By the way, her “little” brother Bart is a 7-footer who plays volleyball at Trinity Christian College in Chicago.
“They called me a volleyball baby,” Marieke said. “I was born with a volleyball in my hands, so I was always into volleyball.”
When she was in high school, her dad got a job in New York, and the van der Mark family moved to Granby, Connecticut.
Interestingly, the year before she got there, Granby Memorial won the state Connecticut state championship. van der Mark had to laugh when admitting that even gaining the future Baylor star the team did not win a state title in her two seasons there.
But it did create, however, an opportunity for her to be seen by McGuyre. Although he wasn’t sure what to make of the then 150-pounder.
“The first time I saw her was at a really horrible club tournament,” McGuyre recalled. “I don’t remember for sure, but I think I went from like Chicago to Connecticut maybe in February. In Connecticut it was a short tournament, in a tiny gym and I had to sit on a chair against the wall near the court. I talked to her coach. She’s 6-6 and everyone else was 5-6 out there and her setter really struggled. And (Marieke) kept running into the scorer’s table.”
What intrigued him was the few times when van der Mark got to swing on the outside.
“She would actually tork and hit those really hard,” McGuyre recalled. I thought there was enough firepower there.”
Waco, Texas, however, was the farthest thing from her mind at the time.
“I was like Baylor, what is that? Texas? I don’t want to go there.”
She admittedly didn’t have a clue when it came to recruiting.
“I came (to America) not knowing there was college volleyball,” she said with a laugh.
College volleyball, she soon found out, was way faster than what she was used to.
And there was a language barrier. Even though she spoke English — British English, if you will — hearing a phrase from McGuyre, for example, to “pass like nails,” threw her for a loop.
“Nails, nails, what am I doing wrong,” she recalled saying. “But you’ve got to pass nails,” she added with a laugh.
She redshirted her first year while recovering from an injury. In 2018, she played in 18 matches and had 35 kills, hitting .170.
Last season, she finished with 193 kills (1.86/set), while hitting .336, to go with 86 blocks, eight solo. It helped that she was playing next to Stafford, who has since graduated.
Baylor is 11-3 this fall. van der Mark is averaging 2.08 kills per set, hitting .243, with five aces, 26 digs, and 41 blocks, five solo.
Van der Mark now weighs 176 pounds.
“I gained the freshman 15 in muscle,” she said.
And she’s graduating Baylor next month with a degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies.
Unless something changes, van der Mark has every intention of returning to Baylor for the 2021 season when she’ll be able to work on her master’s degree in sports management. She’s not sure about a sixth year in 2022, but it’s possible.
Next month she’ll also go to the Netherlands. She hasn’t been back in two years.
“Always my dream as a little girl was playing on the Dutch national team,” she said.
She had a previous opportunity to try out but couldn’t because of the pandemic and subsequent shutdown, so van der Mark is really excited about getting a chance again.
And the Dutch coaches will see what McGuyre already knows.
“Marieke brings a lot of enthusiam and a lot of energy and it’s contagious,” McGuyre said. “You appreciate it because it’s unselfish. It doesn’t matter if she’s doing something good or a teammate is doing something good.”
SUN BELT — One of Saturday’s semifinals is set and pits Coastal Carolina vs. Little Rock.
Coastal Carolina (17-0) advanced with a sweep of App State (1-13) in a winner-take-all one-match showdown. That’s because their Pool A was reduced to just two teams when Arkansas State had to stay home, so Coastal’s 25-23, 25-18, 23-25, 25-13 win gives it Friday off and ended App State’s season.
Little Rock (6-13), which opened the tournament with a win over Louisiana, clinched the three-team Pool D with a 26-24, 25-18, 25-18 victory over Georgia State (8-11).
Also Thursday, South Alabama (8-13) swept Louisiana-Monroe (1-22) and Texas-Arlington (11-6) eliminated Georgia Southern (5-11).
There are three more pool-play matches Friday, as Texas State faces South Alabama eyeing one semifinal spot, and UTA plays Troy with the winner getting the other. Also, Louisiana plays Georgia State to end their seasons.
Click here for the Sun Belt Conference website to view the scores, pools, and schedule.
Anett Nemeth had 23 kills and hit .486 to lead Coastal and added two assists, an ace, two blocks, and 13 digs.
Janae Thurston had 12 kills for Little Rock and hit .333.
South Alabama hit .385 in its 25-16, 25-18, 25-19 victory, led by Hannah Maddux, who had 12 kills, hit .348, and added an ace, and five digs. Hannah Harris had six kills, hit .385, and had two assists, three aces, 10 digs, and two blocks.
And Texas-Arlington won 25-15, 22-25, 25-20, 25-17. The Mavs were tied 7-7 in the first before pulling away in a big way, and then in the third did it again, breaking a 15-15 tie to finish strong. Brianna Ford led with 13 kills, three assists, three blocks, and 10 digs. Chamblee Russell had 18 kills for GSU.
BIG 12 — Oklahoma (3-8) beat visiting West Virginia (7-8) in four Thursday, while Kansas (4-9) did the same to Texas Tech (5-10).
Oklahoma, which lost its last four matches, won 25-19, 25-21, 25-23. Freshman Guewe Diouf had her best match with 24 kills while hitting .404. Diouf added an assist, four blocks, and nine digs. Sanaá Dotson had 18 kills, an ace, four blocks, and five digs, and Tyler Alcorn had three kills in eight errorless attempts and eigh blocks. OU held a 16-7 blocks advantage. Briana Lynch had 12 kills for West Virginia and Natali Petrova 11.
Kansas got 15 kills from Ayah Elnady, who hit .308, and 10 from Caroline Crawford in its 25-21, 25-13, 24-26, 25-20 victory. Caitlin Dugan had 16 kills and four blocks, one solo, for Texas Tech.
SEC — Visiting Tennessee (4-4) swept Auburn (0-8) for the second straight day in the fall-season finale for both teams. Lily Felts had 13 kills in the 25-20, 25-12, 25-14 victory. Tatum Shipes had 12 kills for Auburn.