The HBU volleyball program expected the torch to pass naturally from one outside hitter, Jessica Wooten, to another, Bailey Banks. Then, two weeks prior to the Huskies’ season-opener last season, Wooten, a two-time all Southland Conference selection, suffered a severe ankle injury in practice that would sideline her for the entirety of what was supposed to be her final season.
“The injury was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but I respect it, because I got to be on the bench and build the relationships with people that I never would have had if I’d not been injured,” Wooten said. “The hardest thing was not finishing with my seniors, because we had been here together, and I know they wanted me to play with them and I wanted to play with them. It was tough, especially being here with Kayla (Armer) for four years.”
In Wooten’s absence, Banks grabbed the torch and became a dominant force in the league in her own right, earning first- team all-conference honors by averaging 3.68 kills and 3.29 digs per set.
“When Jess got hurt last year, we really had to step up, and I was one of those who had to take on a bigger role,” Banks said. “I had to push myself and be the best I could for my team. I became a more confident player — I had to — I had no choice. I played all out and grew up a lot.”
“Bailey stepped up a ton when I was out,” Wooten said. “I remember the coaches telling me, not that it was good that I was hurt, but that it allowed Bailey to blossom as a player. She has, as a leader, and I think it’s good now, because we’re both able to lead and not feel like we’re stepping on each other. We really have a respect for each other.”
Wooten received a medical redshirt and has returned to the court to join Banks for what is now both of their senior seasons. They have similar skillsets as they are outside hitters who play all-around and are committed as much to defense as they are to offense. On September 9, Wooten became only the third player in HBU history to record 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs for her career, and Banks is not far from becoming the fourth.
“Bailey and Jess compliment each other and play off of each other really well,” Head Coach Trent Herman said. “When one struggles, the other can pick her up; but when they are both on, they’re really fun to watch. To have both of them together on this team is special. They bring so much experience and they’ve both had to carry the load at different times.”
Banks transferred to HBU from North Texas when Wooten and Armer already had two seasons under their belts and had established themselves as team leaders. When Wooten returned to the team, though, she deferred to Banks. They used to have a friendly rivalry that has turned into a healthy competition to push each other and bring out the best in one another and their teammates.
“The competition has been good between them, but it’s also been good for our freshmen outside hitters,” Herman said. “They all push each other and it’s developing the depth that we haven’t had in the past. They have a little bit of a rivalry, but they also like to see each other succeed.”
Banks and Wooten will be remembered as two of the most dynamic outside hitters in school history, but they have put aside their personal accolades to focus on leading their teammates to even greater heights.
“We communicate a lot better; we’re more excited for each other,” Wooten said. “We root for one another now, whereas before there may have been more competition between us. It’s helped the team a lot, and the way she took over last year has made me respect her even more.”
“We’re both pretty independent people and we can both be on the quiet side sometimes,” Banks said. “We’re always looking for ways to push the team and we tend to lead more by example. It’s about the present time with your teammates and focusing on winning a conference championship and the conference tournament, which is something we all want to accomplish.”
To learn more about HBU’s women’s volleyball program and discover the other HBU teams, visit: HBUhuskies.com