There are 41 Division I volleyball tournaments starting today, the final week of the nonconference season.
Forty are nowhere close to the level of competition taking place in Waco, Texas.
The Baylor Classic not only has three nationally ranked teams — the fifth-ranked Bears, No. 13 Hawaii and No. 17 Missouri — but the Ferrell Center is hosting three of the five remaining unbeatens. (The others are No. 10 Pitt, 10-0, and No. 24 Cal, 9-0).
“I didn’t anticipate this,” Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said in a telephone call earlier this week. “It’s a testament to all three teams, the kind of season all are having.
“It’s a great RPI tournament for all three of us and it’s kind of fun for Waco to be hosting one of the top tournaments heading into conference play.
(RPI is the Ratings Percentage Index that rates a team’s strength of schedule and is used for selection and seeding in the NCAA tournament.)
The last time Hawaii saw Baylor was in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament in Eugene, Ore. The Bears completed a reverse sweep of the Rainbow Wahine, 23-25, 23-25, 25-14, 26-24, 16-14, a contest in which Hawaii had match point at 14-13 in the fifth set before giving up three straight points.
Baylor returns all but one starter from the match, while Hawaii has revamped its lineup, with three freshmen and two transfers among its current starters.
“I think Hawaii has something special going on,” McGuyre said. “They’ve got good, young freshmen who don’t know any better and hungry, hungry seniors.
“We’re excited to have them and we see Hawaii as friends. My wife (former Wahine Jen Roberts) being teammates (in 1996) with Robyn (Wahine coach Ah Mow) and Angelica (Wahine associate coach Ljungqvist) creates an affection for that.”
Before there is a rematch of last year’s NCAA tournament, Baylor and Hawaii have to face Missouri. The Bears get the first shot at ending the Tigers’ perfect season today.
“Missouri is a very low-error team — that always gives you a chance to win,” McGuyre said. “We’ve got to play great.
“Someone could go undefeated this weekend or just as easily everyone is 1-1.”
“This is a unique opportunity for all of us,” Missouri coach Josh Taylor said in a telephone call this week. “To have three teams inside the top 20, all undefeated, is incredible.
“Baylor is physically dominant. Hawaii is playing high-level volleyball as well. I’m grateful we are playing Hawaii on a neutral court.”
Taylor, a Punahou graduate, is very familiar with the home-court advantage that is the Stan Sheriff Center.
The 27-year-old spent quite a bit of time in Hawaii’s arena, watching his All-America sister Nikki play, as well as playing against the Rainbow Warriors as an All-American at Pepperdine.
Baylor set a program attendance record with 3,878 in Saturday’s sweep of Tennessee. On the same evening, Hawaii had a season-high 7,595 in a sweep of UCLA.
A look at the field:
No. 5 Baylor (7-0)
The Bears, with their highest-ever national ranking, are off to their best start since 2009 and the best under fifth-year coach McGuyre. Baylor has won its previous three tournaments, picking up three wins over ranked teams on the road: then-No. 4 Wisconsin (3-1), then-No. 11 Marquette (3-0) and then-No. 18 Creighton (3-0).
Junior hitter Yossiana Pressley followed up her AVCA National Player of the Week award (Sept. 10) with MVP honors at Baylor’s Hampton Inn & Suites Invitational last week. Joining the athletic 6-foot Pressley on the all-tournament team was 6-1 junior Hannah Lockin (best setter).
The Bears return five starters from the 20-9 team that knocked Hawaii out of the NCAA tournament. Freshman Kara McGhee, a 6-4 middle, has started all 23 sets and leads Baylor in blocks (30).
No. 13 Hawaii (9-0)
The Rainbow Wahine are off to their best start in Ah Mow’s three seasons but a long way from matching the 30-0 start of 2004. Like Baylor, Hawaii has won all three of its previous tournaments, including wins over then-No. 21 San Diego and then-No. 13 Washington, and Saturday’s emotional sweep of UCLA.
Three different Wahine have won the MVP awards during the past three weeks: junior hitter Jolie Rasmussen (Hawaiian Airlines Classic), junior middle Sky Williams (Heineken Invitational) and freshman hitter Hanna Hellvig (Outrigger Hotels & Resorts Challenge). Rasmussen, the National Player of the Week on Sept. 3, has missed the past two matches after spraining her right ankle against West Virginia. Her playing status continues to be day-to-day.
This is the first time the Wahine have traveled during nonconference since 2013, when they went 3-0 in the Shocker Classic hosted by Wichita State. Of Hawaii’s seven returnees, six played in the NCAA tournament match against Baylor, including current senior setter Norene Iosia, who had her fifth triple-double of the season (11 kills, 14 assists, 15 digs) as both a setter and outside hitter.
No. 17 Missouri (8-0)
The Tigers are off to an 8-0 start for the sixth time since 2000, the third time since joining the SEC in 2012. Mizzou’s signature win was a sweep of then-No. 14 Michigan to open the Dayton Invitational.
At their own invitational last week, the Tigers dropped one set in four matches, clinching the championship with a sweep of Boise State. Redshirt sophomore setter Andrea Fuentes followed up her Invitational MVP honor with the SEC’s player and setter of the week honors on Monday.
Mizzou returns six starters from its 24-8 team that was eliminated by eventual national runner-up Nebraska in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Taylor became interim head coach July 18, the same day that Tiger co-head coaches Wayne and Susan Kreklow announced their retirement after 19 seasons. Taylor, an assistant the past two seasons, is married to former Missouri All-American setter Molly Kreklow, the niece of the former coaches. She is in her first year as an assistant with her alma mater.
RAINBOW WAHINE VOLLEYBALL
At Waco, Texas
No. 17 Missouri (8-0) at No. 5 Baylor (7-0), 1 p.m.
No. 13 Hawaii (9-0) vs. No. 17 Missouri, 8 a.m.
No. 13 Hawaii at No. 5 Baylor, 9 a.m.
>> Livestats: BaylorBears.com
>> Radio: 1420-AM/92.7-FM (Hawaii matches only)
>> TV: None
>> Online: Big 12 Now on ESPN+
>> Series: Hawaii trails Missouri, 1-0; leads Baylor, 4-1