At the end of the 2016 season, Baylor volleyball head coach Ryan McGuyre talked about challenging for a Big 12 Conference title and hosting first- and second-round matches in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. What at the time sounded like lofty aspirations for a program that had never done either came to fruition.
Behind the strength of four all-conference honorees, including Big 12 and AVCA Southwest Region Freshman of the Year Yossiana Pressley, the Bears enjoyed the most successful regular season in the program’s 40-year history. Baylor earned the No. 12 national seed in the NCAA Tournament after finishing second in the Big 12 with a 13-3 record.
The Bears swept Miami University in the NCAA Tournament’s first round in the program’s first-ever NCAA postseason home game. However, Baylor’s magical season came to an end the following night with an unexpected straight-set loss to former Big 12 foe Colorado.
“It absolutely stings because you’re only as good as your last match, and we did not play at the level of expectation,” McGuyre said.
Despite the early exit from the tournament, the Bears achieved numerous program firsts in 2017. Baylor’s second-place conference finish was two spots better than any previous team, and the Bears made the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time.
“Finishing second in a great, great conference is a significant step,” said McGuyre, who earned Big 12 Coach of the Year honors in his third season at Baylor. “Where maybe last year we surprised people, I think this year people expected it. Teams were more ready for us.”
Pressley, sophomore middle blocker Shelly Fanning and freshman setter Hannah Lockin were named honorable mention AVCA All-America. That trio along with senior outside hitter Katie Staiger earned AVCA All-Region honors. Staiger, Fanning and Pressley also were first-team All-Big 12 selections, while Locking and junior outside hitter Aniah Philo were second-team all-conference honorees.
Baylor’s season included four wins against nationally ranked opponents, winning in five sets against then-No. 10 BYU, sweeping Iowa State in both meetings, and sweeping then-No. 11 Kansas on the road. They also won in five sets at Washington State, a team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Big shoes must be filled in 2018 with the loss of four seniors: Staiger, middle blocker Camryn Freiberg, libero Jana Brusek and middle blocker Tola Itiola. Staiger, a 2016 All-American and two-time all-conference and all-region honoree, leaves as the most decorated player in program history. She also was a 2017 second-team Senior CLASS All-America selection by Premier Sports Management.
But with Fanning and Philo back, and Pressley and Lockin proving to be two of the conference’s brightest young stars, the Bears look poised to not miss a beat in 2018—and perhaps improve. Nonetheless, McGuyre said the program’s ultimate goal is “to have a ministry and live a legacy.”
“To win it all would be a beautiful byproduct of it,” McGuyre said. “We want to go deeper. We’re committed to winning a national championship. And that’s continuing to train the right way, bringing in the right players here. But also, when we win it all, doing it the right way.”