Baker's setting at Fremd nothing short of a work of art
As an art teacher at Fremd High School, suffice it to say Vikings girls volleyball coach Curt Pinley knows quite a bit about the history of his field.
So to bring up Vincent van Gogh's famed "Starry Night' oil painting when asked about what makes his prized setter Rian Baker one of the state's elite setters, Pinley could not have contrived a more complimentary statement.
"Why is Starry Night such a great painting?," Pinley asked about the piece of work which has been in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1941.
"There are different reasons. Each idea individually is important but all of those concepts combined is why the composition is amazing. The same can be said about Rian."
Pinley said it's not just one element that makes the 6-foot junior who she is.
"She has the physical attributes," he said. " She is tall, athletic and creates a difficult block to swing around. She is a student of the game. She knows opposing rotations which makes her aware of which hitter has a weaker blocker.
"During time outs, we can have a conversation about where we can attack and take advantage of the defense. Rian will return to the court and execute those concepts, She is well respected by her teammates. She truly cares about the program. She wants her teammates to feel successful at every level. All these things make her a talented setter."
And she is a setter who helped lead Fremd to its fourth-place finish in the 2019 Class 4A state finals, after falling to eventual champion Benet in the quarterfinals.
The coach of that Redwings' team? Rian's father, Brad.
"Because of my dad, I was surrounded by volleyball so much as a kid and I was always around his volleyball camps and practices at Benet," said Baker, who helped lead two undefeated teams at Plum Grove Middle School before starting as a freshman at Fremd.
"I just sort of picked it up."
She played at the Pro V Club where her father coached from sixth to eighth grade before joining Sky High her freshman year at Fremd.
"My dad subtlety pushed me toward being a setter and I always wanted to be in that position so it just worked out," she added. "I've always sort of been a leader and liked to make decisions. I think a lot of that comes with setting. I like being in a position where I can be a leader of the team on the court."
Baker has committed to play at Wake Forest, where she plans to study in the science or medical field.
"My aunt and uncle are both nurses and I enjoy hearing things they tell me about their jobs," Baker said. "I've always liked seeing movies and shows in those fields. It seems like such a cool profession. You're always helping other people. You can make a difference so I think that is a really cool occupation."
For now, she'd like to help her team to a Mid-Suburban League championship in this shortened COVID-19 season.
"My coaches have been really flexible and understanding," she said of dealing with club volleyball and high school. "I think most of my focus will be on high school volleyball.
"It's definitely nice having almost all our people back from last season. With everyone fresh off the club volleyball season, it should be a really good season."
And with Baker leading the way, the odds are very good of that happening.
"The supersectional win (only second in program history) when we beat Libertyville (2019) has been the highlight so far," Baker said. "And it's a great feeling coming back with all these same girls.
"Our coach is so understanding with everything. He's such a good coach. He just really focuses on making sure we all have a good time and that we all work together, play hard and have fun."