By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
After starting the season 5-0, No. 5 Baylor volleyball returns home on Thursday to face off against unranked Houston (5-4) and Tennessee (2-3) for their first home tournament of the season.
The Bears defeated three ranked squads in the first two weeks of play which jumped them to No. 5 in the country in the most recent poll, destroying the program record of a No. 12 ranking, set just last season. That 12 spot jump from their previous ranking of No. 17 represents the largest jump in the history of the AVCA poll.
Head coach Ryan McGuyre said Wednesday that these wins have built confidence for his team going forward.
“It’s twofold. It affirms to the ladies that what we’re doing is on the right track, it’s the right way, and how we’re training is gonna help us win some matches,” McGuyre said. “I think the confidence comes from the steadiness.”
Baylor opens the Hampton Inn & Suites Waco North Baylor Invitational against Houston. The Cougars lead the series all-time 30-5, but the Bears are on a four-match win streak.
The Bears are much more unfamiliar with the Vols. Baylor has only met Tennessee once, as they were handed a 3-0 sweep back in 2005 in Knoxville, Tenn.
McGuyre had high praise for both programs.
“It’s another tough weekend, the only difference is we’re at home instead of on the road. Houston has a new coach who’s gonna do a great job there and help get them to the next level. They’re doing it the right way,” McGuyre said. “Tennessee, a team that went as far as we did. They’ve played some really good teams. We’re not gonna intimidate them just because of our ranking.”
That being said, Baylor is up for the challenge, as their success has started early, said junior setter Hannah Lockin.
“I think the key to [our success] has been our strong starts,” Lockin said. “It started with our strong start during double days, and then just carrying that through and being consistent.”
Lockin went on to praise her teammates’ chemistry and sense of belonging.
“We all know the expectations and we all are holding each other to that. I know that my teammates have my back, and I, like, have their back, and we all know that about each other. I feel like we are a family and, like, a real team,” Lockin said.
The Bears are happy to be home this week. Baylor is 44-17 in home games under coach McGuyre and 2-2 in home openers, including a 3-1 win against LSU last season. By all accounts, that trend won’t be slowing down.
“It’s new,” said McGuyre, referring to playing at home. “Our performance will be as great as our potential minus the interference. It’s good to be home, not on a bus or a plane.”
Baylor faces Houston at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Ferrell Center.