Goodbye, Yossiana Pressley. Farewell, Hannah Sedwick. See you later, Avery Skinner.
Baylor’s volleyball program said goodbye to some of the best players in school history after the 2021 season. The legacy they built, which includes a 2019 Final Four appearance, multiple accolades All-America and an AVCA National Player of the Year award for Pressley, won’t be soon forgotten.
But it’s time to move on. A new season awaits you. And the current Bears, who are ranked No. 16 in the AVCA preseason Top 25, are excited to carve out their own legacy.
“I think one thing that’s so unique at Baylor is that our heritage isn’t necessarily in our performance,” said fifth-year senior middle blocker Kara McGhee. “It shows in our performance, but it’s in God and honoring him. It will always be postponed, no matter who is here, because it is something that is so important to all of us. As this is the most important thing for us, we always want to perform on the pitch. And we will, because we have trained hard and we have so many talented players. It’s just fun.
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It should be fun for McGhee and the other middlemen. The Bears will be looking to beat upside teams more in 2022. In recent years, they’ve attacked early and often from the bowling alley, and why not? When you have top drivers like Pressley and Skinner coming in from the outside, it makes perfect sense to pin the offense on their backs.
But Baylor plans to be more intentional in setting its middle blockers for kill chances this season. Head coach Ryan McGuyre liked what he saw of this strategy both in practice and in the Bears’ preseason exhibitions. Granted, McGhee, along with his sophomore younger sister Elise McGhee and Texas A&M fifth-year transfer Mallory Talbert, are fans of the strategy.
“It definitely makes our offense more dynamic, which makes it harder for the defense because they don’t know where to go,” Kara McGhee said. “Faster midfielders, faster pace, makes it more chaotic on the other side.”
Ideally, the shift in focus could free up some outside avenues for the Bears. Just as a football offense might run to set up the pass, Baylor’s center blocker-facing offense might give outside hitters extra space.
Even minus Pressley and Skinner, there’s still talent there. Specifically, there’s a former All-American in senior Lauren Harrison, who had 241 wins on a .262 hit percentage last fall while sharing opportunities with those other two slammers.
“When it comes to returning firepower, Lauren Harrison has … one of the heaviest arms in the country,” McGuyre said.
McGuyre is high on the potential of redshirt freshman Riley Simpson and real freshman Allie Sczech as young but effective striking options. Simpson had the chance to bide her time and learn from talented Baylor veterans last year, and she can’t wait to go wild and use those lessons.
“It was awesome,” Simpson said. “Honestly, it was a little daunting at times. But it was really great to learn from Avery, Yossi, Kara and a bunch of other very experienced players. I certainly learned quickly what my skills were. weaknesses, but it was also great because they pushed me to do my best every day.
Following Sedwick as a setter is not necessarily the most enviable position. But if anyone might be up for the challenge, it’s rookie Averi Carlson, the Big 12 coaches’ pick as the conference’s preseason rookie of the year. Carlson arrives as the highest-ranked rookie Baylor has ever signed — she was ranked No. 4 nationally by PrepVolleyball.com — and won the Gatorade National Player of the Year award at Lucas (Texas) Lovejoy High School in as a senior.
“She’s a humble warrior,” McGuyre said of Carlson, who signed up early at Baylor and participated in spring drills with the team. “She is very consistent in who she is. I don’t have to worry about nerves or anything with her. Incredible learning. You talk about learning speed as a competitive advantage, and she’s one of the fastest learners I’ve ever trained.
You know that moment when you’re sitting on a roller coaster, noisily riding the climb before the initial drop? It’s terrifying, intimidating and exhilarating all at the same time. It is the ideal representation of the Baylor calendar. The Bears will open the season Friday and Saturday at TCU’s Schollmaier Arena, but not against their Big 12 pals, the Frogs. No, instead Baylor will face No. 5 Minnesota on Friday and No. 3 and defending national champion Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge. No pressure or anything.
All of these teams will likely look a little different come December when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. But there’s still a lot to be gained from plunging headlong into the fire, McGuyre said.
“I think we can take a lot out of it. That’s the challenge,” he said. “Last year we went our separate ways, we won (one). So by the next time we see them — it might be a Final Four, it might be a regional final — who works harder strong and improving?Like I said, I like the pace at which this team is improving, but we really have to be there at the end, we have to maintain that pace.