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Coach rebuilds Baylor volleyball program

Aug. 31, 2004

Young team looks to new leader for guidance this season

By SPORTS WRITER, sports writer

The 2004 season promises to be an exciting year for Baylor volleyball. Hoping to re-energize his players and lure more fans to the Ferrell Special Events Center, first-year head Coach Jim Barnes will feature a new balanced offense and more aggressive defense.

Robyn Kenagy | Lariat staff
Freshman middle blocker Karin Peer digs a ball during practice Monday afternoon. Peer is one of four freshman on the 2004 Lady Bears' volleyball roster.
The theme for this season is teamwork. Through his personal style of coaching and focus on teaching the fundamentals, Barnes hopes to build a solid corps of players that will enjoy the game and not worry as much about wins and losses.

"I care about my players a great deal; they're just like family to me," Barnes said. "They're playing together much better and not concentrating on the stakes so much."

This attitude has spread among the players, and the team is looking forward to upsetting more teams this season.

"We are going to be a very strong team," Stella Odion, a junior outside hitter, said. "The other teams in the conference aren't going to see us as a walk-over team."

The overall goal for Baylor volleyball is to make the NCAA tournament. However, the road to the tournament will be a tough one.

To be eligible for the tournament, a team must finish in the top six in the Big 12 Conference. Baylor was picked eighth in pre-season polls after finishing 12-22 (4-16 Big 12) last year. The Bears also will face three top 25 pre-season teams in conference play, No. 2 University of Nebraska, No. 14 Kansas State University and No. 15 Texas A&M University.

Another problem for Barnes is the youth and depth of the team. This year's squad has no seniors, four true freshman and a redshirt freshman.

Also, two Hungarian players, Andrea Vakulya and Eszter Kovacs, recently decided to stay home with their families rather than return to Waco.

If anyone can turn the program around, however, it's Barnes.

In his first position, Barnes took over a Lamar University program that went 13-22 the year before and lost two All-Sun Belt Conference players and led them to a 20-13 record.

In 1997, the Lady Cardinals were picked to finish sixth in the Sun Belt Conference. Instead, Lamar finished tied for the conference title with an 8-1 conference record.

After winning 2001 Southland Conference Coach of the Year honors, Barnes left Lamar for a struggling University of Wyoming program.

His first year at Wyoming, Barnes led a team that went 9-15 the previous season to its first 20-win season since 1989, finishing 20-11.

The foundations are in place for an improved Lady Bears team. The players are responding well to Barnes' more player-friendly style of coaching.

"They have definitely responded quicker than my two other programs I have taken over," Barnes said. "The teamwork is really improved, and that's what I most proud of."

The results could be seen even in the first week of practice.

"Fans who have watched us play in the past said that we just seem more confident and together as a team," Desiree Guilliard-Young, a sophomore middle blocker, said. "I know we're going to upset a few teams."

Barnes said he hopes to wow the Baylor fans this year with a more aggressive and relentless team. Even if the Lady Bears fall short of making the NCAA tournament, this season should provide plenty of thrills and a solid foundation for future years.

Baylor will open its season against the University of Texas at Arlington 7 p.m. Wednesday in Arlington.

The Lady Bears' first home game is September 8 against the University of Texas Pan-American.