Dreams Realized

Bears reach unprecedented heights in historic season

Dreams Realized

When Ryan McGuyre was named Baylor Volleyball head coach in December 2014, he talked about achieving excellence on the court in a Christian environment. Five years later, McGuyre and the Bears reached heights well above anything in the program’s 42-year history.

Behind first-team American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Americans Hannah Lockin, Shelly Stafford and Yossiana Pressley, the Bears reached the national semifinals for the first time in program history. It was the first time Baylor progressed in the NCAA Tournament beyond the regional semifinals, a level the Bears had previously reached only once (2009).

Pressley was named AVCA National Player of the Year, while McGuyre was named AVCA National Coach of the Year. Pressley was the first Big 12 Conference student-athlete to earn the award since Nebraska's Sarah Pavan in 2006 and the fourth Big 12 student-athlete so honored in the league's 24-season history.

After Baylor defeated the University of Washington in the regional final, McGuyre reflected on something Baylor Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mack B. Rhoades IV put on his desk years earlier.

“It said, ‘It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit,’” McGuyre said. “We have these battles thanking each other so we can create an atmosphere like that.”

Baylor was 25-1 in a regular season that included six wins against nationally ranked opponents. The lone blemish came in mid-October when the Bears fell to the University of Texas in Austin. Four weeks later, Baylor avenged that loss, defeating the Longhorns in front of the largest home crowd (7,357) in program history. That win led to Baylor earning the program’s first Big 12 title and returned the Bears to the No. 1 spot in the AVCA Top 25, a spot Baylor held in six of the season’s 14 rankings. The Bears were the No. 1 overall seed as Baylor made its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

More than 3,000 spectators were on hand Dec. 14 when Baylor defeated Washington at the Ferrell Center in the regional final. McGuyre said the electric environment was part of what propelled the Bears to Pittsburgh for the national semifinals.

“We talk about multiplying joy all the time,” McGuyre said. “We’re thankful for Waco, the community and everyone that came out to support us and help us multiply that joy. That electricity brings out the best. Without that energy, maybe Yossiana only gets 22 kills.”

Pressley, the leading candidate for national player of the year honors, dominated Washington with 24 kills and an eye-popping .512 attack percentage. She said the team set many goals at the season’s onset; winning the Big 12 was on that list, as was winning a national title.

“We want to be national champs, but the first goal of that accomplishment is to get to Pittsburgh,” Pressley said after the Washington match. “We’re not looking at a match and trying not to lose. We have an end goal, and we’re trying to get there.”

The totality of Baylor’s historic season is luminous. The Bears established program records in wins, winning percentage and conference wins. It was the Bears’ fourth consecutive 20-win season, making seniors Stafford, Tara Wulf, Hannah Fluegel, Braya Hunt and Gia Milana the class with the best winning percentage in program history.

“We tried to treat every match this year like a national championship match,” McGuyre said. “The seniors, I can’t say enough. They went undefeated at home this year, and that’s pretty incredible.”

Pressley was named Big 12 and AVCA Southwest Region player of the year, and Lockin was Big 12 Setter of the Year. Pressley, Lockin and Stafford were all first-team AVCA All- Southwest Region selections. Meanwhile, Stafford repeated as Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. McGuyre earned coach of the year honors from the Big 12 and the AVCA Southwest Region.

McGuyre said he believes coaches should be “dream releasers,” helping student-athletes reach heights to which they cannot ascend on their own.

“It’s more than just volleyball for us and this program,” he said. “At Baylor, it’s about Preparing Champions for Life. By no means do we want the end of the journey to even be winning the national championship. Our dreams are bigger and higher than that.”

Throughout his tenure at Baylor, McGuyre has challenged his teams to play for an audience of one: God. He said that includes surrendering one’s will to the Lord.

“When we do that fully and remain connected to Him and apply His precepts to our life, the history that He creates is always better than what we can imagine on our own,” McGuyre said. “We have a good head coach, and it’s not me. It’s been God for us this year.”