By Daniel Hill
The Bears are in Honolulu this weekend for the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic.
Entrance to this tournament is invitation only, something Barnes said the program had to deny in the past.
“I’m glad we got another invitation,” Barnes said. “This is a great tournament to be in.”
After an eight-hour plane ride to Hawaii, the team had time to rest before practicing Thursday afternoon.
That morning was full of sightseeeing for the team, including snorkeling and relaxing at the beach.
Today, the Bears will face No. 25 California in Baylor’s first game.
In the Big 12 Preseason Poll, the Baylor volleyball team was selected to finish No. 5 in the conference.
While Baylor has lost some prominent contributors to graduation, the Bears have strong leadership returning to the team and an influx of highly touted freshmen.
The Big 12 is known for being the most competitive volleyball conference, and Baylor has to have marquee recruiting classes in order to
compete at a high level.
“We are getting the best athletes in the country coming here,” Baylor head coach Jim Barnes said. “They are ranked 16th in the country, and we had some other classes behind them ranked 14th in the country. So our program is moving forward, and we are playing in the number one ranked conference in the country. The Big 12 is No. 1 in volleyball, so our teams are really good and our program is really moving forward.”
The Bears are stocked with young talent this year as Baylor welcomes the No. 16 recruiting class to Waco along with returning senior leaders Kate Harris and Torri Campbell.
Having gone to the NCAA tournament in two of the last three years, expectations have risen for Barnes’ squad.
“We expect to be in that tournament every year,” Barnes said. “Our focus now is really to be the best team that we can be and if we are then we’ll go deep in that tournament.”
The 2011 team qualified for the NCAA tournament, and this year’s squad looks to do the same.
The Bears will have to replace the production of Briana Tolbert who led the team in kills, kills-per-set and points last season.
Last year’s libero, Allison King, had 653 digs in order to set the all-time Big 12 and Baylor single-season record.
Not only did the Bears lose Tolbert and King, but they also lost four other letter winners to graduation.
Thanks to an infusion of highly rated freshmen talent, Baylor volleyball should not skip a beat this year.
In the Fairfield Inn North Baylor Classic this past weekend, several freshmen saw extensive action on the court, including Thea Munch-Søegaard, Mackenzie Mayo, Laura Jones, Adrien Richburg, Sam Hill and Adri Nora.
“I think this year is going to be different than any other year that Baylor volleyball has seen and I think it is going to be very interesting for people to come watch and they need to come see it” Mayo said.
Jones, another Baylor freshman was honored as the MVP of the entire tournament.
With it being her first time ever playing collegiate volleyball, it would be understandable if Jones were nervous.
“After I made a mistake, I bounced back from the next one. I thought I did well calming my nerves as well,” Jones said.
If Jones had any anxiety, she certainly did not display it on the court as she led the team with 16 kills against Tulane.
Along with the talented corps of freshmen, Kate Harris, the senior setter and team leader, returns to the squad.
Harris is an inspirational player who is the backbone of the team.
Her senior leadership will be crucial in helping the freshmen adjust to volleyball at the elite Big 12 level.
In work ethic and attitude, Harris leads the way for Baylor volleyball.
Torri Campbell, a senior middle hitter and Pre-season All-Big 12 selection, is the returning offensive leader.
She is also a vital part of the Bears’ defense at the net.
As a junior last season, she was the leader in blocks and blocks/set.
She was second on the team in kills, kills/set and points.
With a unique blend of veteran leadership and a shockingly talented group of freshmen, this season promises to be a memorable one for Baylor volleyball.