By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
No. 1 Baylor volleyball heads to Austin on Wednesday night for a top-five matchup with No. 4 Texas. This will be the first ranked matchup for the Bears since Sept. 22 against then No. 13 Hawaii.
The Longhorns are 12-2 and also undefeated in Big 12 play. Meanwhile, Baylor hasn’t lost a set since Sept. 12, with a Baylor record of 31 set wins in a row, as well as a 16-0 record to boot.
With that success comes confidence. The Bears go to Austin with a swagger past teams haven’t possessed, throwing a new wrinkle into this contest. Fifth-year senior middle blocker Shelly Stafford said their record has produced confidence heading into their matchup Wednesday.
“This season is one of those years that I’m pretty convinced that we have the best chance of beating them. But, you know, it’s a hostile environment. I’m excited for it to be a fun fight,” Stafford said.
Even more than the swagger, the players are excited for this big-time match. This team is full of seniors like Stafford, Tara Wulf and Gia Milana, among others, and they have yet to win against these Longhorns. This will be their last chance to change that, at least on the road, and Stafford said the prospect of beating Texas is like a shark tasting blood.
“I think we’ve been like ‘We’ve just got to keep beating teams,’ and then, now we’re here at Texas and just excited to keep that going,” Stafford said.
Baylor head coach Ryan McGuyre has been preparing his team for this moment all season. The Bears are undefeated and haven’t been tested in a while, but according to the players, practices have been especially rough in preparation for this matchup. McGuyre, though, said that he is thankful to finally face the Longhorns.
“We said early that we want to just cherish the season, and so one exciting thing is for both of us to be undefeated, and we’re playing a game that matters,” McGuyre said.
“They’ve sold out tickets, and this is what these girls signed up for a long, long time ago. We want to play somewhere it’s relevant and it matters; and we get two teams that are playing the best of the best in a great match.”
This will be the most fans the Bears have played under since facing 7,052 screaming faces in red when they traveled to Wisconsin, and Gregory Gymnasium is bound to be rocking. Junior setter Hannah Lockin said the game down there is exciting, but she downplayed the effect of the students in the stands.
“It’s just a huge crowd and an awesome atmosphere […] for me, I just feel like it’s always sold out there. I don’t think it makes a huge difference, but I do think it’s cool there’s going to be so many people there,” Lockin said.
What makes Texas special is the talent and consistency of the program. The Longhorns have made deep runs in the tournament, which has become their MO, with a second-place finish in ‘16, as well as Elite Eight losses in the past two tournaments. McGuyre said this match will be good preparation for the postseason.
“They’ve got firepower. Brionne [Butler]’s back so they’ve got firepower in the middle. You’ve got two seasoned outside hitters, and at some point, the game comes down to how the pins are doing. They can hit the snot out of the ball,” McGuyre said. “Every hitter they have on the floor is a terminal hitter if you’re not paying attention.”
Baylor will face off with Texas at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Gregory Gymnasium in Austin for the top spot in the Big 12.