Elena Baka was 12 years old when she caught the volleyball bug. She had tried other sports. She dazzled the floor in ballet. But there was just something about volleyball that instantly clicked. She loved to play it near her home in Thessaloniki, Greece, on the sandy beaches of the Aegean Sea. The feeling would carry on into indoor gyms, where she played competitively on teams. Yeah, she was hooked.
“When I was there, I wasn’t thinking about anything else,” she says. “It was a great escape from the world. It’s my escape. It all just clicked in my first practice. I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.'”
Today, Baka is a senior transfer at Kansas State. She’s one of the best outside hitters in the Big 12 Conference. She earned MVP honors at the K-State Invitational. She was named to the UCF Challenge All-Tournament Team. She has the second-most total service aces (18) in the Big 12 and ranks 22nd in the nation while serving up multiple aces six times, including each of her first five contests. She ranks third in the Big 12 in total points (134) and 10th in average points per set (3.62).
Playing six rotations, Baka leads the team with 122 total kills while hitting at a .202 efficiency. She had a career-high 19 kills against UCF and has three double-doubles, including 16 kills and a career-high 17 digs against Missouri last Wednesday.
A transfer who arrived in January after playing three seasons both indoor and beach at Saint Mary’s (Calif.) College, the 6-foot-1 Baka is fitting in nicely for K-State (8-2), which travels to face Kansas City (3-6) on Wednesday.
“I’ve been working every day since I’ve been here,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of volleyball in my life, and I think doing both indoor and the beach, it’s like one helping the other, and I’m trying to apply myself from beach volleyball to all my indoor experience and learn from it and grow and change. Being here at K-State, my coaches are really on me about getting better, which I love, and it’s very competitive, and we love that competitiveness in the gym.
“We’re all trying so hard every day.”
Baka won the 2016 national championship with the under-15 Greece national team, and the 2017 and 2018 national titles with the under-17 club. She was named MVP of her 2016 national championship team. She was recruited from Greece by Stanford, USC, Florida State, Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s. She loved her official visit to Saint Mary’s and the fact that she could play both indoor and beach for the Gaels.
During her three-year career at Saint Mary’s, she totaled over 660 kills in 66 matches (2.73 kills per sett) while adding 566 digs (2.33). As a sophomore, she earned All-WCC Honorable Mention honors. In two beach volleyball seasons, she posted a 16-11 record and was the only Saint Mary’s athlete to be named First Team All-WCC.
“By the time I was reaching my junior year at Saint Mary’s, I decided I wanted to go pro after college, and obviously had to choose one sport, so I could follow the steps of a pro. I decided I would choose indoor, so I had to leave Saint Mary’s if I wanted to follow that path.
“I put my name in the transfer portal and looked at my options. I spoke to the coaches over the phone, I loved the coaches, and I was excited to talk with them. K-State is in the Big 12 Conference, so that was a big part also. I wanted to play on a good indoor team in a very good conference. K-State fit best. I’m so glad that I made that choice because I love the team. I met the girls after I arrived, which could be kind of tricky coming in, but they’re all lovely, and I love the team.”
Baka is the first volleyball player from Greece in K-State history.
“Representing my country is a huge honor,” she says. “Anyone would love to represent their country, especially in the United States. I love being here. Obviously, I play for K-State, but having my background from Greece, this is really cool, and I’m very proud of it.”
Over the course of her college career, she’s returned home for two months over the summer and for Christmas. Her family watches every game, sometimes as late as 3 a.m., and they provide a wonderful support system even though they’re separated by about 5,700 miles.
She thinks about home all the time. One of her favorite memories is being with her parents and younger brother at their beach house in Preveza. Her father, Chris, played water polo; her mother, Efi, was a swimmer; her brother, Theodore, plays professional soccer in Greece.
“Just being at the beach house, and being there by the beach in the evenings, and playing by the water for hours with no worries in the world when we were young with no worries in the world, just us, would be my favorite memory.”
Now she’s making more memories as one of the biggest contributors at K-State while keeping her ultimate goal in mind.
“I’m hoping I’ll play for my national team one day,” she says. “I hope to play professionally somewhere in Europe. I’d love to travel and play in different countries in Europe.”
First, she’ll finish this season. She’s undecided if this will be her final season. She still has one year of eligibility remaining. For now, the grueling Big 12 schedule awaits. And the goals for the Wildcats remain the same: They want to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’d be very exciting,” she says. “That’s another reason why I chose K-State, because I knew we could achieve that goal and I’d be very excited to be a part of it.”