The Prairiland Lady Patriots volleyball team made history this season, and this year’s All-RRV MVP was a big reason why. Lady Patriots senior setter Baylor Sessums helped lead her team in a big way both statistically and historically, and it rubbed off on her teammates.
“I’m most proud of they way we stepped up and played as a team,” Baylor said. “The past years, people have seen we’ve had the potential and skill, but didn’t utilize it and come together as one. Everything just all went into a flow and clicked this year.”
Baylor posted impressive numbers of 490 kills, 538 assists, 353 digs, 49 aces and 15 blocks. She also led her team to a 36-8 record with a 7-1 record in district play. She is a valuable weapon in all aspects of her game as the statistics show, which her coach sees accentuate versatility and intelligence.
“Baylor is a player that can do it all,” Lady Patriots head volleyball coach Emily Vanderburg said. “She’s very versatile and a very smart player. When it comes to being able to setting her hitters, running the offense, communicating with her hitter and she can cut the ball where wants to when she’s hitting. She can place the ball where she wants to and find the hole in the block — she can score.”
Baylor scored plenty on the court and she and her teammates scored big with what they accomplished.
“At the very beginning of the season during two-a-days, V-burg (Coach Vanderburg) brought us out a paper,” Baylor said. “We all had to put our season goals on the piece of paper, and our season was very rewarding because we accomplished most of our goals. As a senior, I’m very satisfied with this season. I know I can walk off the court with no regrets and know we did everything we could do. We fought until the very end, and I’m very proud of this team this year.”
Baylor believes she can say that with confidence because of what her team accomplished. For the first time since 2004, she led the Lady Patriots to the regional tournament. The second round was the team’s nemesis in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but the breakthrough along with the outright title of district champions in 2019 made it all worth it.
“Our biggest moment from this year was our playoff run,” Baylor said. “We finally made it past the second round and made a run for it in the playoffs — that’s something we haven’t done in a while. Even before I was in high school, Prairiland has not gone to the regional tournament in so long. Getting district champs is also a big moment since it helped make our path to regionals easier.”
The path was favorable for Prairiland to get to the regional tournament held at Midlothian High School. The Lady Patriots edged Commerce for the district title, and faced Atlanta, White Oak and New Boston in the first three rounds to get to round four. Prairiland swept each of the three teams, but getting the opportunity would not have been possible without defeating Commerce at home.
After falling to the Lady Tigers in Commerce in a five-set heartbreaker, Baylor saved her best for that contest. She posted 10 kills, 15 assists and 13 digs in a sweep over Commerce (25-13, 25-22 and 25-17).
“My best game was probably when we played Commerce at home,” Baylor said. “We swept them, I played with a lot of energy, we were up and encouraging the whole time and I had a lot of kills that game.”
The energy was not only evident in that pivotal district game, but throughout the season. The role Baylor had for her team was undeniably important for her team’s success and momentum in matches.
“Baylor’s hits always got the team and the crowd fired up,” Baylor’s teammate Madison Clark said. “She was always my go-to hitter, and she could put the ball away when I needed her to. If I made a save and no one else could get to it, I know she would be there to help me out. She always seemed to spark our team at the right time and turn a match around with her hits because it always got everyone fired up and ready to go.”
The strong play from Baylor carried Prairiland into the fourth round against Van Alstyne. The playoff run ended there in four hard-fought sets, and the Lady Panthers eventually fell in the state title game. Losing was a tough pill to swallow, but getting to that point took a great deal of confidence and courage, which Baylor and her team believes they displayed.
“I think over the years, I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my teammates, and I’ve become a more positive leader,” Baylor said. “I try to keep everyone up because if we’re down and tearing each other apart — we know we can’t play like that. I think I’ve evolved tremendously over the years as a leader.
“We just tried to stay positive,” Baylor said. “We were loud in practices and we stuck to our goals. Our one big goal before the season even started was to be district champs. Even with the losses and hard defeats, it just fueled our fire even more and gave us motivation to work through it.”
Even though the game against Van Alstyne was the last time Baylor and her teammates would step on the court together, that moment and going that far with her fellow seniors was what she worked so hard for along with setting the bar high for the younger players.
“My motivation to play this year has been playing for my team and the other four seniors,” Baylor said. “It was our last year as seniors, so I wanted us to go far in the playoffs for them and myself. This was it for us. For the other girls on my team, I wanted to set a positive example for them to look back on, so they will have something to strive for even with us leaving. I still believe they can be district champs and do anything they set their minds to.”
For Baylor individually, getting an MVP award isn’t just handed to a player on any level, and she knows it. Having what it takes to earn awards is something Baylor keeps in mind as a competitor, and sees the bigger picture with her role for her team.
“It’s a big accomplishment to be an MVP,” Baylor said. “It takes a lot of hustle, dedication, drive and heart most of all. You have to go 100 percent in games and practices. Even whenever you have an off day, you still have to be producing and leading.”
From a talented sophomore to an elite senior, Vanderburg has enjoyed watching her star setter grow as a player, but also seeing her evolve as a leader even more.
“It’s been a pleasure to see Baylor grow as a player in these past three years,” Vanderburg said. “I’ve seen her grow physically just getting better and better each year in getting to the top level of where she’s at, and also in her leadership role. She’s definitely grown in that way and embraced that role better this year. She stepped it up and kept herself where she needed to be to help her teammates out. She is the leader of that team.”
Even though her Lady Patriot volleyball career is complete, Baylor will always cherish the lifetime of memories made through the highs and lows with everyone on her team.
“I’m going to miss my teammates and the fans the most,” Baylor said. “Our fans and student section were the biggest they’ve ever been. We had a full house every single game. All of us as a team even with Coach Vanderburg grew closer this year. We all formed bonds and made unforgettable memories that will always hold a place in my heart.”