By Cody Soto
Baylor volleyball will kick off its 2014 season by hosting the Hampton Inn Waco North Baylor Invitational this weekend at the Ferrell Center.
After a rough 2013 season, Baylor opens play against Abilene Christian Friday at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Bears will show off their new home court.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons and we want to see how we do against an opponent, but we’re learning a lot and we’re far from a starting lineup,” head coach Jim Barnes said. “There’s a lot to learn this weekend to get us going.”
This will be the first time since Nov. 30’s three-set loss to Texas that Baylor volleyball will play an opponent with its complete fall roster.
“We’ve been training since January to get ready for tomorrow, we are ready to play an opponent and learn from that experience,” Barnes said. “We can handle adversity and with the people we have healthy, we will play very well.”
Baylor brings back 12 players from last year’s roster. It also added Iowa State transfer Andie Malloy and San Jacinto College transfer Keili Harrison along with three freshmen: middle hitter Neka Cuppetilli, libero Ashley Myer, and libero Jana Brusek.
The Bears had a successful spring season and went 8-2 against opponents, but they are putting it behind them to focus on this season, senior outside hitter Nicole Bardaji said.
“We are starting fresh and taking each day by day,” she said. “We are looking towards the future and it’s bright for us.”
The Bears look to use their goal “All In” to motivate the team to start the season strong, sophomore middle hitter Tola Itiola said.
“We are playing our hardest and giving it our very best effort,” Itiola said. “If we work as hard as we can, I think we will be happy with the results as long as we know we all put in the effort and we are all in for each other and for God.”
Baylor will face Abilene Christian for the first time since 1986, when the Bears took a five-set decision. Baylor leads 3-1 all time in the series and is 1-0 in Waco. The Wildcats return a majority of last year’s roster and look to open their season with a win in Waco.
The Bears will play Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Saturday at 10 a.m. The Islanders are coming off of a successful 2013 season and posted a school best 13-5 conference record. They return seven starters and bring in nine newcomers to the roster. Baylor holds a 3-0 series lead, and have swept all three matches.
To close out the tournament, Baylor and Portland will face off at 7 p.m. Portland had a disastrous 2013 season, and finished 0-27 and 10th place in the West Coast Conference. The Pilots return 10 players from last year’s roster and add five newcomers in hopes of turning the program around under first-year head coach Brent Crouch.
“To prepare for [this tournament], we just plan on playing and running our own game,” Itiola said. “We want to hold ourselves to a certain standard and are looking for chemistry and trying to serve our teammates to hold each other to that standard.”
All matches will be played at Paul J. Meyer Arena in the Ferrell Center. Updates will be available at BaylorBears.com.