There’s been a lot going on recently for the members of the Texas volleyball team.
This week, most of the Longhorns voted for the first time in a presidential election. Players also are currently dealing with midterms.
Oh, and their two biggest matches of the season are set for Thursday and Friday.
Texas (10-0) and Baylor (11-1) will battle twice at the Erwin Center. Texas is the top-ranked team in the AVCA’s fall poll. Baylor was ranked second in each of the past five weeks, but the Bears slipped behind Kentucky on Wednesday.
“They talk about the (Texas-Baylor rivalry) all the time,” UT freshman Nalani Iosia said. “It’s going to be fun and exciting. I’m just excited to see our team get pushed like we did at the Kansas State game, that was an adrenaline high for sure.”
On paper, Baylor and Texas should not be considered rivals. Texas owns an 84-3 lead in the all-time series. The Bears have never beaten Texas as a road team, and they haven’t won a set in Austin in 2012. Texas and Baylor, however, split their two matches in 2019. In both cases, the losing team was ranked first in the country at the time. They both ended up sharing the Big 12 championship and the teams entered the NCAA tournament as the top two seeds.
Last year, Texas swept the Bears in Austin on Oct. 23. Four weeks later, Baylor outlasted Texas in five sets in Waco, its first win over the Longhorns since 2001.
“(Texas is) just that team. They’re so physical. They are great defensively, offensively, just an overall good team,” Baylor senior Yossiana Pressley said. “Now that we know that we can win … let’s make sure that we’re doing X-Y-Z to accomplish that same goal.”
Last year in Austin, Texas and Baylor played in front of an over-capacity crowd inside of Gregory Gym. A Baylor record of 7,357 fans were in Waco for the rematch. Due to social distancing rules, no more than 1,500 fans will be in attendance for each match this week.
But while the crowds may look different, many of the faces on the court remain the same. Last season, Pressley was both the Big 12’s MVP and the AVCA’s national player of the year. This year she’s averaging 4.4 kills per game. In the Big 12, that trails only Texas junior Logan Eggleston’s 5.12 kills per set.
Eggleston is one of seven returners who played in all of last year’s eight sets against Baylor. Pressley returned to the Bears this season alongside all-conference honorees Hannah (Lockin) Sedwick and Kara McGhee. After losing its first match this season, Baylor has won 11 straight. Texas, meanwhile, has dropped three sets all fall.
“Let’s call it the Fall Final Four if you want to put that in the media,” UT coach Jerritt Elliott joked. “It’s a good test to see where we’re at as a program right now. I know that Baylor and our program are excited to compete at this level and see where we’re at.”
This week’s results will likely decide the Big 12 champion. It could also impact the seeding for a pandemic-altered tournament that the NCAA plans on holding in the spring. The NCAA has not yet revealed how it will fill its brackets, but it will take 16 fewer teams than it usually does. Despite the dwindled field, Elliott and Baylor’s Ryan McGuyre aren’t viewing these as do-or-die matches. Both coaches said that Baylor and Texas have done enough to get invited to the spring dance. Elliott and McGuyre also lobbied for the inclusion of fellow Big 12 teams like Kansas State and West Virginia.
“I would imagine that Baylor and Texas are safe at this point from my eye,” Elliott said.
Added McGuyre: “I think we’re both safe as well. We’ve both got to finish strong for sure, but we’re trending the right way.”