‘Champions don’t die easy’: No. 12 volleyball moves on to Sweet 16

Yossiana Pressley executes a hit against Pepperdine in the second round of the NCAA Tournament during Baylor's 3-2 win over the Waves Thursday at the CHI Health Center Omaha in Omaha, NE. Mark Kuhlmann/NCAA Photos

By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer

Baylor volleyball moved on to the Sweet 16 on Thursday, beating Pepperdine 3-2 in the second round. The Bears won the first, fourth and fifth sets, while dropping the second and third. With the win, Baylor enters its second Sweet 16 in as many years.

No tournament game is an easy win, especially when the opponent is one you’re already familiar with. Baylor took down Pepperdine in five sets in late February, and the Waves came prepared for their second shot at the Bears.

“Pepperdine is a great team,” junior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley said. “I feel like our energy level definitely played a part in us going to five, but they are a solid team. I feel like we had to battle it out, and we did, so that was great. They’re just a really good team, and I feel like it was a great competition.”

This season’s tournament has undergone some changes in light of the COVID-19 situation, and those changes have not gone unnoticed by players and coaches alike. The traditional field of 64 teams has been cut to 48, and first round byes have been introduced. Even with the changes, Pressley still felt good getting back on the court.

“I will say, it felt a little weird because of [playing in] the convention center,” Pressley said. “It was so awesome to have this new atmosphere and experience something that probably might not happen again…it was just awesome to be a part of this.”

Baylor stuffed all corners of the stat sheet in this one, led in the kill column by Pressley with 26 and sophomore Lauren Harrison with 17. The Bears had an incredible defensive day at the net, with Andressa Parise finishing with nine blocks in her first game since November, followed by Kara McGhee with seven, and setter Hannah Sedwick with six. There were more than enough assists to go around too, as Sedwick totaled 28, Callie Williams had 17 and libero Shanel Bramschreiber finished with 11. Parise’s performance was especially impressive, seeing as this was her first game since the new year.

“I’ve been injured most of the spring, and it’s my dream coming true right now,” Parise said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m so happy I’m a part of this team, and I want to do my best, take care of my body, and be here for the team when they need me.”

Parise, though not one of Baylor’s usual contributors, didn’t surprise any of the Baylor players or staff with her performance. She, along with freshman Cassie Davis and junior KJ Johnson, have had their numbers called more often in the spring, whether it be filling in for injured players or developing on their own. Despite not seeing as much court time in the fall, Baylor’s depth is becoming a strong point at the right time.

“It’s so awesome, but it’s not anything new,” Pressley said. “We work hard in practice all the time, we always compliment Andressa and Cassie and many others in practice every single day. They are holding the standard. They are working hard and just being themselves each and every day. We know what to expect out of Andressa, Cassie, KJ, Bri [Coleman].”

Baylor has had to grind out a number of wins in the spring portion of the season, and the toughness developed through those experiences has already begun to serve them well in high-pressure tournament games.

“It was definitely a fight,” Parise said. “It was just our energy, we should have stepped up earlier. But it’s ok, we now know that we’ve got to fix that, and it’s just our energy.”

Down two sets to one with their season on the line, Baylor needed that energy. They’d get it in the form of a 4-0 run in the middle of the fourth set to extend their lead to seven. Pepperdine wasn’t going to roll over though, as they battled back to make the set 23-22 in favor of the Bears. Ultimately, it would be Baylor’s blocking prowess that kept them in the match, as a Sedwick-McGhee block gave them the set win. Head coach Ryan McGuyre was more than pleased with the grit his team showed.

“Great fight from our team for sure,” McGuyre said. “Felt like maybe [we] were on life support there for a little bit, trying to get the execution to be at the level we’re capable of and make it happen. We’ve learned from other teams, other programs that champions don’t die easy.”

That couldn’t be more true of this Baylor team, as they came out strong and blitzed the Waves early to gain control of the fifth and final set. The Bears’ experience and poise showed up once again in a meaningful win. They’ll see the court next on Sunday to take on No. 5 overall seed and perennial powerhouse Nebraska. The game time and viewing availability are yet to be determined.