Going to the polls: Volleyball coaches vote on top teams

Shanel Bramschreiber and Yossiana Pressley celebrate a point during Baylor's sweep of Oklahoma on Friday. The Bears are currently ranked No. 2 in the AVCA poll. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

by Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

Many college sports fans are familiar with the AP Poll, and in more recent years, the College Football Playoff poll, but the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association poll (AVCA), college volleyball’s ranking system, doesn’t get nearly as much recognition.

The AVCA poll, which started in 1982, is more than just a ranking system. The organization also offers information about recruiting, training tips for coaches, the basics of volleyball and more.

As the name suggests, the AVCA gets its votes from college coaches around the country, including Baylor head coach Ryan McGuyre. McGuyre is joined by several Big 12 colleagues, including Oklahoma’s Lindsey Gray-Walton, Iowa State’s Christy Johnson-Lynch and Texas Tech’s Tony Graystone. These Big 12 coaches, along with coaches from the ACC, SEC and Sun Belt, vote to determine the best 15 teams in those conferences.

Separate AVCA polls exist to rank the Big 10 and Pac 12 conferences, which come in handy later in the season when putting together the bracket for the NCAA tournament. Fans familiar with NCAA basketball’s March Madness will be instantly familiar with the structure of the NCAA volleyball tournament, as they both operate in the form of a 64 team bracket.

“We have some parameters that we have to follow, per the NCAA guidelines, and that’s win-loss, head to head, strength of schedule, common opponents, and of course RPI comes into play,” Michelle Durban, chair of the NCAA D1 volleyball selection committee, said.

Rankings this year will look a little different, both in the AVCA and eventual NCAA lists. Categories like strength of schedule and common opponents have been greatly affected by COVID-19. The vast majority of volleyball teams have been unable to play games outside of their respective conferences. As a result, a powerhouse team in a weaker conference might receive a lower ranking because they’re viewed as unproven. Additionally, games between non-conference rivals, for example Texas and Texas A&M, haven’t been able to be played, again affecting the overall strength of a given team’s schedule.

In recent years, Baylor has often found itself at or near the top of the AVCA rankings. However, the team doesn’t let their lofty rankings go to their heads.

“We’re just gonna keep our heads on what’s next … and worry about what’s in front of us,” sophomore outside hitter Lauren Harrison said.

Baylor head coach Ryan McGuyre shares Harrison’s view on rankings, saying that he doesn’t want success to go to the team’s heads, but he is appreciative of recognition.

“To me it’s a bit of an early Christmas, it’s time to praise God for what he’s done for us this year,” McGuyre said after Baylor received the No. 1 overall seed in the 2019 NCAA tournament.

In a less official capacity, the AVCA poll can create intrigue for fans over the course of the season. The addition of a ranking system creates the capacity for upsets, cinderella stories and matchups between the nation’s top-ranked teams.

Baylor currently sits at No. 2 in the AVCA poll, behind only Big 12 rival Texas. The AVCA poll is released on Wednesdays, and will reflect the results of the week’s matches.