On Sept. 25, Marquette volleyball star freshman and outside hitter Autumn Bailey had one of the worst games of her career.
In a five set win over a far inferior Illinois State at the Al McGuire Center, the Burlington, Ontario, Canada native had just 13 kills and hit .074, the second-lowest hitting percentage of her young career. Marquette needed a magical rally late in the fifth frame to avoid losing a match they led two sets to none.
Three days later, the team opened conference play against DePaul in Chicago. Bailey, in desperate need of a bounce back, posted a career-high 29 kills and hit .500. She led the Golden Eagles to a five set victory in which they needed every last kill.
“I let myself sink to that level and I knew I didn’t want to be there,” Bailey said. “I know how low I can go and I know how high I can possibly go. I want to play my best and be consistent.”
Even as a freshman, Bailey is Marquette’s most consistent offensive threat. She has double-digit kills in all but two matches this season and averages 4.10 kills per set. She makes 15-kill nights look easy and hits nearly .300 while still taking far more swings than any other Marquette player.
“When you’re a hitter, your job is to terminate the ball,” Bailey said. “That’s what I like to do. It’s probably my favorite part of the game.”
Incredibly, such a valuable asset went largely unnoticed in the recruiting process. Bailey and her club team, Defensa, would play in small tournaments across the border in New York, Ohio and Michigan. Coach Bond Shymansky said it took a while to hear about her.
“We always like to think we’re on top of the recruiting game, but it took a couple different people to get to me to say, ‘Coach, you really need to see this kid,’” Shymansky said.
When a club coach sent him video of Bailey tearing it up at a tournament, Shymansky decided he would get on a plane to Canada to see what she was all about. Once there, he discovered she was “the real deal.”
“It didn’t take me long to figure out that we need to get this kid and we need to work hard at it,” Shymansky said. “We’ve always gone with the dogpile mentality. When we see a recruit that we want, we go after that recruit 100 percent, full bore. We don’t look at any other recruits until she makes a decision.”
The method worked. Bailey said the prospect of a good education and a solid volleyball program attracted her to Milwaukee. However, the biggest factor was Shymansky and his likeness to her club coach, Rob Fernley.
“I was looking for a coach that was similar to my club coach,” Bailey said. “He has a really good personality and I connected with him well. Bond is really similar to my club coach, Rob, and that was something that attracted me to come here.”
When Bailey took the court at the Al McGuire Center for the first time at the preseason scrimmage, her talent shined through. Unsurprisingly, she tallied 44 kills in her first collegiate weekend, including 26 against then No. 13 BYU. While Bailey experienced some ups and downs during the pre-conference season, she rapidly evolved into Marquette’s best offensive weapon.
“It’s helped our team to evolve every match,” said redshirt freshman middle hitter Meghan Niemann. “Anytime we can get a solid contribution from Autumn, especially because she plays six rotations … that turns any of our two-hitter phases into three-hitter phases, which are deadly for anybody across the net from us.”
On top of that consistency, Bailey is the most versatile player the Golden Eagles have. She averages a little more than 11 digs per match from the back row and her lethal jump serve produced six multi-ace games, including two last weekend in wins over Butler and Xavier.
“The complete package player is a rare thing in our game these days,” Shymansky said. “Autumn really has the whole thing … she has all facets available to her. Those types of players create a lot of opportunities.”
With a two-game lead and six matches to go in the regular season, Bailey’s consistency and versatility will undoubtedly play a major role in whether Marquette wins its first Big East regular season title. She knows the team’s youth, including the other contributing freshmen around her, will determine the outcome of the “Season of Champions.”
“It would be awesome considering our team is so young,” Bailey said. “We’ve worked really hard this season so far and we’re going to keep working hard so we can grasp that title.”