Senior staff writer
Southside volleyball star Caitie Baird has worn jerseys representing Perry Meridian High School and Circle City club teams, but she never had worn a USA jersey until last week in Mexico. The three-sport senior athlete earned gold as a key member of the U.S. women’s junior national team that captured the NORCECA U20 continental championship.
“Wearing the colors of the USA was very humbling,” Baird said last week. “I wore USA on the front and that is something I’ve always dreamed about. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Baird, a Perry Meridian senior who also plays basketball and competes in the high jump, had her biggest games with six kills and six blocks in a 3-0 sweep over Guatemala in the quarterfinals and four kills and two blocks in a 3-1 semifinal triumph against Mexico. Her 12 points led the Americans against Guatemala. The Americans went unbeaten in five matches by winning the championship against the Dominican Republic, 3-0, which touched off a boisterous celebration, a team photo with the American flag and pizza and donuts at their hotel.
“We were taller than all the teams we played, but Cuba and the Dominican Republic had really quick players,” said the 6-foot-2-inch Baird. “It was so cool to play there; all the teams we played showed great sportsmanship and were very competitive.”
After the tourney ended, players from the six teams exchanged shirts and other memorabilia. Baird returned home with two shirts from Mexico and one from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Baird, the only player from Indiana, was among the younger players on the team, with several members headed to college in the fall. Baird is committed to Stanford University.
“I never felt I was at a disadvantage,” she said. “We respected each other because we had trained and worked so hard to make the team and represent the U.S. “I was a little bit nervous before our first match (Puerto Rico), but that ended once the match started. By playing for the USA it has really bolstered my confidence, and I feel even more secure in my game. “By far it was the most fun I’ve ever had,” Baird said. “It was my first international experience, and I was so humbled to wear USA.”
By winning the NORCECA championship for the seventh time in 11 tournaments, the team qualifies for the FIVB U20 world championship next summer in Italy. She will have to try out for the team, however. Her goal is to play on the Olympic volleyball team.
Baird had not been home since June 7, when she left for USA Volleyball training headquarters in Colorado Springs to try out for the U20 team. There was no rest after playing in Aguascalintes, Mexico, because she joined the Circle City Purple U18 team for the AAU nationals in Orlando, Fla., last week, and played through Friday.
She was expected back home late Sunday. She is the youngest member of an athletic family. Her parents are former collegiate athletes. Sister Cassie completed her student-athlete career at the University of Denver and has signed to play professional volleyball in Switzerland in the winter. Brother Dustin is a junior at Brown, where he is a standout baseball player. As for Caitie, she will get little rest before conditioning to join the Falcons for their first official practice July 30.