By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
Everyone loves a good ‘David and Goliath’ dynamic. It’s fun to watch an underdog come out of nowhere to knock off the preconceived favorite.
There are upsets that echo throughout the annals of sport history. What’s even more entertaining than a Cinderella story, though, is a showdown between two Goliaths.
That’s exactly what’s in store for NCAA volleyball fans this weekend as No. 3 Baylor travels to Austin to take on the No. 1 Texas Longhorns. Both teams have plowed through the Big 12 this season, with only one loss between them.
The pair of matches played between the two this weekend will go a long way in determining who will take home the Big 12 regular season championship. In spite of the circumstances, Baylor is remaining calm.
“There’s not any pressure that’s just new,” senior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley said. “We know what we have to do, and we’re going to do that.”
Pressley, the reigning national player of the year and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week, has also been an integral part of a stout Baylor defense. The Bears rank No. 6 nationally in total blocks, No. 11 in blocks per set and No. 13 in digs.
A large portion of their blocking success has come from middle blockers Laché Harper and Kara McGhee. Both Harper and McGhee rank in the top 35 nationally in blocks per set, averaging 1.14 and 1.07 respectively. They’ve also combined for three Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors, the most recent one given to McGhee for a 14-block performance against West Virginia.
That defensive prowess has given Baylor the necessary confidence to compete with another powerhouse like Texas.
“Now that we know we can win, it’s like, ‘Ok, bet. Let’s make sure we’re doing X, Y, Z to accomplish that same goal,” Pressley said.
Although Texas has yet to lose a match this season, they’re not invulnerable. The Longhorns dropped a set to Oklahoma early in the season and went a full five sets with Kansas State in October.
“Every Big 12 team is good,” senior setter Hannah Sedwick said. “Texas is really awesome. We’re just excited to compete.”
Sedwick missed a large portion of the season due to injury, but had an immediate impact upon her return. In Sedwick’s short time on the floor this season, she’s contributed nine assists and a pair of kills in only four played sets. As Texas approaches, Sedwick said she feels ready to go.
“Texas was on my mind — just thinking that, ‘Ok I wanna for sure be able to play for that game,” Sedwick said.
Even with Sedwick back, Baylor has still struggled on the first half of their back-to-backs this season. Head coach Ryan McGuyre said the team has worked on starting strong from match one.
“[The girls] want to get better each time,” McGuyre said. “I think the flip side is, ‘How can we be a little bit sharper and more prepared for the first match of the week? That’s kinda the grind side … and the resiliency has been there.”
Baylor took down Texas a year ago for the first time since 2001. That victory helped fuel Baylor’s No.1 ranking and national semifinal run in the NCAA tournament. It also legitimized the Bears into the collegiate volleyball landscape.
“That was something that was part of the dream. It was a checklist. We want to win conference. We got to beat Texas,” McGuyre said. “Conference will go through Texas always and hopefully other programs will say it’s got to go through Baylor too at some point.”
Baylor will take the floor in Austin at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, with both matches being played in the Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Special Events Center. Both matches will be aired on the Longhorn Network.