By Ben Everett | Sports Editor
No. 16-ranked Baylor volleyball takes on LSU at 7 p.m. Friday at the Ferrell Center to tip off one of the most anticipated seasons in program history.
The Bears earned their highest American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) preseason ranking in program history at No. 16, in addition to being picked second in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches Poll.
Sitting ahead of the Bears is No. 3 ranked University of Texas. The Longhorns have won 11 total Big 12 Championships, including six of the last seven, compared to Baylor’s zero.
Sophomore outside hitter Yossiana Pressley said the Bears have one goal in mind this season and their competitive fire will help them reach that goal.
“We are so hungry to beat Texas,” Pressley said. “Having that competitive edge, that hunger, we definitely have it and we can do some great things with this team.”
Baylor has ascended from the bottom of the conference during head coach Ryan McGuyre’s tenure. The Bears finished third to last in the Big 12 in 2015, McGuyre’s first year in Waco. McGuyre has turned Baylor into a perennial NCAA Tournament threat, and the fourth-year coach is now two wins away from 400 throughout his career.
Redshirt junior middle blocker Shelly Fanning said the competitive role reversal has been great for the program.
“I think it’s a cool thing for Baylor,” Fanning said. “We get to come out and compete at our highest level and just know that teams are after us and hungry to beat us. That just fuels us to want to beat them more.”
Baylor returns four starters from last year’s 24-7 NCAA Tournament squad. Pressley and sophomore setter Hannah Lockin were tabbed preseason All-Big 12 selections, with Pressley garnering a unanimous selection.
Pressley notched 391 kills in her freshman season with 17 assists and a .243 kill percentage. McGuyre said he expects Pressley to be even better this year.
“Yossi’s going to take another jump,” McGuyre said. “Going from freshman to sophomore is always a huge jump for everyone because you get the spring under your belt and you’ve been battle tested. The previous seniors did a good job of leaving a legacy on how to be strong athletes, but also strong women of character and Yossi’s just grown tremendously in that arena.”
Lockin, an All-American setter as a freshman, will be held out this weekend as she is dealing with an undisclosed injury. McGuyre said they will take their time with injured athletes to preserve them for conference play.
“Health-wise we’re trying to ease a couple athletes back into the mix,” McGuyre said. “Hopefully, we’ll have everyone strong by conference time, but we’re day-to-day at some positions and others just have to heal.”
The Bears host Marquette and Texas State as a part of the Hampton Inn & Suites Waco North Baylor Invitational this weekend. Each team will play each other once.
Marquette and LSU each received votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association coaches poll, but neither are ranked.
Despite the strength of the teams competing in the invitational, Fanning said the team is expecting to start the season undefeated.
“We do have some really good teams coming in,” Fanning said. “I think sweeping all of them would be ideal and we’re going into this weekend with that mindset, but just playing at our best and expecting their best is what we hope for going into this weekend.”
The Bears take on Texas State at 10:30 a.m. and then Marquette at 7 p.m. on Saturday, following their season opener against LSU on Friday.