We’ve already had No. 1 vs No. 2. It happened a month ago, when then second-ranked Stanford won in four at then-No. 1 Nebraska.
But this one Wednesday night is a bit different.
For starters, now-No. 1 Baylor (16-0, 6-0) is the last unbeaten team in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball. And No. 4 Texas (12-2, 6-0) will be at home for a sold-out Big 12 match between the top teams — by far — in that conference.
“To me it’s great,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “Our conference needs this.”
Not only can the match be seen on the Longhorn Network and ESPN.com, but the network is doing a preview show at 6:30 p.m. Central, followed by the first serve at 7. The LHN broadcast team of Paul Sunderland and Salima Rockwell will be joined by ESPN’s Holly Rowe. And Baylor is holding a watch party in its arena on campus.
The winner will all but be assured a top-four NCAA Tournament seed, assuming — and it’s a safe assumption — that they don’t lose again in the Big 12.
Texas, 83-2 all-time against Baylor, has beaten the Bears 34 times in a row.
“Each year is its own new journey,” fifth-year Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said.
“I’m pretty convinced that we have our best chance of beating them,” Baylor senior Shelly Stafford said, “but it’s a hostile environment. It should be a fun fight.”
Many of the players on both teams — the schools are located about 100 miles apart — were recruited by both programs.
“It should be a really good matchup,” Elliott said. “We’ve got a ton of respect for what Ryan has done over there. They’re pretty special. They’re 48-2 in sets, they’re well-balanced, they’re very good offensively, and they manage the game at a pretty high level. It will be a good test for our group.”
Indeed, it should be quite an offensive showing. Texas leads the nation in hitting percentage at .328 and Baylor is hitting .310.
Baylor is led by junior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley, a national player-of-the-year candidate who has 270 kills (5.74/set) and is hitting .317. The 6-footer is a spectacular leaper, has a whip of an arm, and also has 113 digs (2.40/set). Stafford, a 6-2 middle, has 147 kills (2.94/set), is hitting .394, and has 56 blocks, four solo. Junior setter Hannah Lockin is as good as they come, averaging 11.56 assists, and has 49 kills, 14 aces, and is second on Baylor’s team with 148 digs and has 46 blocks, two solo.
“We know it’s a big match. No secret that it’s a big match,” Lockin said. “And it’s so cool that we get the opportunity to even be a part of it.”
Baylor has other important pieces, too, including senior libero Tara Wulf, senior outside Gia Milana, and leading blocker freshman Kara McGhee.
“We’ve said that we want to just cherish this season,” McGuyre said. “It’s exciting that we’re both undefeated, we’re playing a game that matters, it’s sold out, this is what these girls signed up for a long, long time ago.”
Baylor was most impressive in the preseason and is certainly battle-tested, opening with wins over UCLA and Creighton before getting everyone’s attention with a four-set win at Wisconsin and sweeping at Marquette two days later. The Bears have also beaten Missouri and Hawai’i and haven’t lost a set in the Big 12.
Texas, however, has a massive height and power advantage.
“They’ve got firepower,” McGuyre said.
Texas is 43-0 against the Bears in Austin.
“I’m pretty convinced that we have our best chance of beating them,” Stafford said, “but it’s a hostile environment. It should be a fun fight.”
While Texas has a multi-faceted offense, it starts with 6-1 senior outside Micaya White, perhaps the most under-appreciated player in the country. She leads with 200 kills (4.0/set), is hitting .300, is second on the team with 125 digs (2.5/set) and has 15 aces. She also has 30 service errors, but can keep a team out of system in a big way. The same can be said for Logan Eggleston, a 6-2 sophomore outside, who has 26 aces — and 42 errors — and has gone on a some remarkable serving runs this season. What’s more, Eggleston is second in kills with 191 (4.5/set) and is hitting .306. The middles are 6-3 freshman Asjia O’Neal (72 kills, 46 blocks, five solo) and 6-5 freshman Molly Phillips (53 kills, 48 blocks, three solo), but there’s a twist to that.
Brionne Butler, a 6-4 sophomore middle who led Texas in blocks last season and was third in kills, is back after sitting out with a foot injury. She’s only played in Texas’s last six matches, 13 sets total, but she has 33 kills and 16 blocks, three solo.
On the right side, 6-2 freshman Skylar Fields has been dominant at times. The monster leaper has 142 kills (2.84/set), is hitting .356, and is second in blocks with 47.
“At some point the game comes down to how your pins are doing who can hit the snot out of the ball and Micaya’s an All-American who moves the ball around very smartly,” McGuyre said. “Skylar Fields on the right side, the top recruit in the country, she can hit a very heavy ball as well. Asjia in the middle, Molly in the middle, every hitter they have on the floor is a terminal hitter if you’re not paying attention.”
The setter is sophomore Jhenna Gabriel, just 5-8, but that hasn’t seemed to hurt Texas this season.
“We’ve been focusing on defense,” said Elliott, whose team lost in non-conference play to Stanford and Rice. “Our serving has continued to improve. This will be a good marker for us.”
The rematch is November 20 at Baylor.
Baylor-Texas is one of just 11 matches on the Wednesday schedule.
There’s a big battle expected in the Big Ten when No. 17 Illinois (9-8, 4-4) goes to No. 8 Penn State (14-3, 7-1). Also in the B1G, Rutgers (6-13, 0-8) is at Ohio State (10-10, 3-5) and Maryland (11-9, 3-5) goes to Northwestern (9-11, 0-8).
There are two SEC matches involving three of the four teams tied for first place. No. 16 Kentucky (13-5, 6-1) plays host to LSU (10-8, 4-4) and Georgia (14-4, 6-1) is home for Ole Miss (14-4, 6-1). The fourth team, No. 13 Florida, is idle.
There is one match in the ACC when Wake Forest (11-8. 1-7) goes to Duke (8-13, 1-7), and also in the Big 12, Kansas (6-10, 2-4) goes to Kansas State (6-12, 1-5).
In the Southern Conference, Samford is at Chattanooga.
The MEAC’s Coppin State goes to Towson of the Colonial, and the Atlantic Sun’s NJIT play at Manhattan of the Metro Atlantic.
Want to watch a match? We’ve got you covered. Click here for the complete NCAA.com scoreboard and to watch any match that is being broadcast, go to the VolleyballMag.com daily TV and streaming listings.
Tuesday’s results: Olivia Wassner, a junior from Switzerland, had an absolutely incredible match for American as she not only had nine kills with one error in 19 swings to hit .421, but added 40 assists, six aces, four blocks and 19 digs as American (14-7, 7-1 Patriot League) beat visiting Loyola Maryland (10-12, 3-5) 25-21, 25-20, 20-25, 25-27, 15-9, winning the last seven points of the fifth set.
Zeynep Uzen had 17 kills and added an assist and 11 digs and Jeanne Westney had 10 kills, two aces, five blocks and six digs. Ann Ernst had 27 kills, a solo block, and 10 digs for Loyola …
Denver (14-6, 6-2) swept a Summit League match at North Dakota (10-12, 2-6) as four players had eight or more kills in the 25-22, 25-18, 25-22 victory. Lydia Bartalo led with 10 kills and had two assists, two aces and 16 digs. Ellie Anderson had two kills in as many tries, 25 assists, an ace and seven digs. Three players had six kills for North Dakota, which hit .101 … Also in the Summit League, Purdue Fort Wayne (13-10, 7-2) kept pace with a five-set victory at Western Illinois (5-17, 2-7). Idle South Dakota (19-1, 8-0) leads the league. Elizabeth Fuerst led Fort Wayne with 16 kills and five blocks in the 24-26, 25-18, 25-21, 20-25, 15-10 victory. Sidney Schiller had 13 kills and 10 digs. Mariah Mitchell had 15 kills and hit .382 for WIU with four blocks and six digs …
Lipscomb won its sixth match in a row as the Bisons improved to 11-9 overall and 7-2 in the ASUN to put them one game in the loss column of idle FGCU and Kennesaw State at 7-1 atop the league. Megan Kuper had 12 kills in the 25-9, 25-9, 25-17 sweep of North Alabama (3-19, 1-8), which hit minus .032. Kuper had no errors in 20 swings and hit .600 to go with two aces, 12 digs and a block. Garrett Joiner had 10 kills and three blocks … FGCU (19-3) won a non-conference match over the MEAC’s Bethune-Cookman (6-17) as Amanda Carroll had 10 kills and hit .421 in the 25-15, 25-20, 25-15 sweep …
Abilene Christian and Lamar both won Southland Conference sweeps. Kennedy Shelstead had 11 kills and hit .474 for Abilene Christian, while Abigale Nash had 13 kills and 10 digs for Lamar …
In the Northeast Conference, Sacred Heart (11-10, 6-2) won its fifth in a row with a 25-4, 25-12, 25-8 blasting of Merrimack (1-16, 0-10). Liisel Nells led with 13 kills and hit .611 to go with an assist and two digs. Merrimack hit minus .025 …
College of Charleston swept UNCW in the Colonial Athletic Association as Molly Russell had 12 kills …
In non-conference action, Sydney Rowan had 17 kills and three blocks for Charlotte in its sweep of N.C. Central … Dora Peonia had 21 kills with no errors in 33 swings for Middle Tennessee and hit .636 in a four-set win over UT Martin. She had eight digs and two blocks, one solo … and Alanis Alvarado had 23 kills, an ace, 14 digs and block for Saint Peters, but the Peacocks lost in four to St. Francis Brooklyn.
Oddly, almost half of the American University roster is foreign and one of the Americans is from Germantown MD. Baylor and Texas play again, so I’m pretty sure at least one of them will lose again, and the rest of the conference isn’t that bad- Baylor looked pretty vulnerable against TCU. I’m not sure you could say this match is a “bigger deal” than Stanford-Nebraska- both teams were undefeated at the time, the match was at Neebraska (which is a bigger deal than being at Texas) and it was a replay of the hotly contested national championship match. Baylor- Texas is largely anticipated because people still have doubts about Baylor- their early season wins don’t seem that impressive in retrospect.