Bears vs Bruins: Volleyball begins the season on the road

Freshman outside hitter KJ Johnson practices a serve during Wednesday's practice as the team prepares for their first official game of the year against UCLA in Lincoln, Neb. Kristen DeHaven | Multimedia Journalist

By Matthew Soderberg | Contributor

This weekend, No. 20 ranked Baylor volleyball opens its season in Lincoln, Neb. against unranked UCLA and No. 18 Creighton for the Husker Invitational.

Baylor has scheduled 14 matches against currently ranked squads, good enough to give them the fifth-hardest schedule in the country. Junior setter Hannah Lockin admired her team’s willingness to schedule gritty opponents early in the season.

“Just to know that our tough competition is first … it’s a really cool opportunity to start really strong,” Lockin said.

Head coach Ryan McGuyre has a reason for taking on that tough competition early on and it has to do with where he sees the team landing later in the season.

“We scheduled to give ourselves a chance to host,” McGuyre said. “If you win them, it works great […] If we lose, then we know where to get better, and we have plenty of time to do it.”

The Bears may have to battle early against teams like UCLA, Creighton and Wisconsin, but by the time conference play rolls around they should be well prepared for an easier slate of games. The only team currently ranked above them in the Big 12 is No. 4 Texas.

To prepare for the season, Baylor went down to College Station for an exhibition match against Texas A&M and left with a four-set win. McGuyre said afterward that the Bears are “trying to make something musical happen” this year, and that he liked how his team played “pretty error free offensively.”

“I really believe it’s the maturity of our team that’s made our practices really strong and really good this year,” McGuyre said.

Since Coach McGuyre took over in 2015, the Bears have lost both times against the Bruins. Last season, Baylor was defeated in five sets at the USD Invitational in Sand Diego. In 2016, Baylor lost in straight sets to the Bruins on their home court in Los Angeles. That being said, both of those matches came against ranked UCLA teams.

Even if the Bears come away unscathed from that matchup, Baylor only beat one of five ranked squads last season, and they get Creighton on day two. While the Bears have a lot of experience against their Pac-12 opponent, they have never faced Creighton in the history of the two programs.

Baylor also comes into this season healthier than last year. Smothered with injuries last season, several Bears including Lockin and fifth-year senior middle blocker Shelly Stafford return the court unbothered by ailments. According to McGuyre, having Lockin back adds to the squad’s offensive edge.

“She’s been phenomenal,” McGuyre said. “She’s playing so well above the net, so she’s an offensive threat. She’s really tripled her ability to be a shut-down blocker for us, which is a fun, nice bonus to have.”

The Bears face the Bruins at 4:30 p.m. today in the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Neb.