MARSHALL - Since she took the court for the Marshall High School volleyball team, Jessica Baker has been part of one of the best traditions in Minnesota. Part of two state championship teams in 2009 and 2011, Baker was also an All-State Tournament selection as a sophomore.
But starting next year, Baker will go from a high school team rich in tradition to a college program that's beginning a new tradition.
On Wednesday, the Tigers senior signed a national letter of intent to play college volleyball at the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.).
Photo by Joe Brown
Marshall senior volleyball player Jessica Baker signs a national letter of intent on Wednesday to play college volleyball at the University of Sioux Falls. Baker won two state title with the Tigers (2009, 11) and was an All-Southwest Conference selection last fall.
"I looked at a few schools, and my dad really helped me in the process," Baker said. "Sioux Falls came to a couple of my games and they really wanted me to play.
"The coaches were really nice and helpful, and the campus is really nice. It's small, but it's not too small. It's close to home and I have family in both directions, in Nebraska and some in Sioux Falls, so it's a good location."
Playing as both a setter and middle hitter in Marshall's 6-2 offense, Baker racked up 217 kills, 301 set assists, 178 digs and a team-high 61 blocks on the way to an All-Area second team and All-Southwest Conference selections.
With Baker excelling in both attacking for and setting up an offense, she said the Cougars' coaching staff will have her in the same setter/middle hitter role in college.
"They're going to try different things out," Baker said. "They're open to it and they are bringing in a lot of freshmen."
Added Tigers head volleyball coach Dan Westby, "Jess can do a number of things. She can set, she can play in the middle, she can maybe play on the right side. I think whenever you have the ability to do a number of things, it gives you that many more opportunities to get on the court, and I think that'll be a good thing for her."
This fall, Sioux Falls, along with Minot State (N.D.) will go from NAIA to Division II, and will join the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. One of the top volleyball conferences in the country, the NSIC had five top 25-ranked teams from last year, including Concordia-St. Paul, which has won the national title five years in a row. Minnesota-Duluth (6th), Southwest Minnesota State (8th), Wayne State (10th) and Minnesota State-Mankato (t-20th) all finished in the top 25 last year.
In their final year at the NAIA level, the Cougars went 15-27 overall.
With her exceptional play over the years, especially at the state tournament, Westby sees Baker as a player who can handle the grind of the always-competitive NSIC.
"She had some big plays for us at the state tournament last year," Westby said. "Playing in that league, it's night in and night out and you always have to play at a high level."
Starting next fall, Baker is ready for the challenges of helping Sioux Falls make the transition to Division II.
"I know the first year might not be pretty," Baker said, "but I bet by my senior year, we could be a pretty good team."