ISU vs Texas Volleyball

Then-sophomore libero Izzy Enna serves the ball during the Iowa State vs. Texas volleyball game Oct. 24 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones fell to the Longhorns 0-3.

Wednesday marks the beginning of Big 12 play as Iowa State plays at Texas, Oklahoma plays at TCU and Texas Tech hosts West Virginia.

The Big 12 has two teams ranked in the top 25 — the Baylor Bears, who are ranked second, and the Texas Longhorns, who are ranked sixth — as well as two teams who received votes to be ranked, the Iowa State Cyclones and the Oklahoma Sooners.

Texas has won the last two Big 12 championships and the last 10 out of 13, but Baylor poses a major challenge. 

“Texas and Baylor have been pretty impressive so far,” Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said.

Let's take a look at each team in the Big 12 and how we expect them to finish in the league.

Baylor Bears:

AVCA Coaches Poll Ranking: #2

Current Record: 9-0 

Predictions: First (Sam), first (Jack)

Analysis:

Arguably, there’s been no team in the country that has had a better start to the season than Baylor. The Bears are a perfect 9-0, including wins over Creighton, Wisconsin, Marquette, Missouri and Hawaii, all of which were ranked in the top 20 at the time.

The Bears' offense has been the most effective offense in the Big 12 , averaging 14.79 kills per set and 18.6 points per set — both of which rank first in the Big 12. 

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Members of Cyclone volleyball shake hands with Baylor players after the end of the third set. Baylor defeated Iowa State in three consecutive sets.

Out of the 29 sets they have played, the Bears have only lost two of them and have seven sweeps this season. 

On the attack, the Bears have a three-headed monster — outside hitter Yossiana Pressley, junior setter Hannah Lockin and freshman middle blocker Kara McGhee.

Pressley leads the Big 12 in kills per set with six and has the second-most amount of kills with 174. 

Another Baylor player with a good hitting percentage is McGhee, who is fifth in the Big 12 with a .351 hitting percentage. 

Lockin has been one of the most efficient setters in the conference as she is getting 11.66 assists per set, which leads the Big 12. 

With Baylor’s efficient offense and its dominating wins over the top 20 teams in the country, they should be the team to beat and have a good chance to win the national championship.

Iowa State Cyclones

AVCA Coaches Poll Ranking: NR, receiving votes

Current Record: 9-3 

Predictions: Fourth (Sam), third (Jack)

Analysis: 

After starting the season 2-3, the Cyclones have rattled off seven victories, including wins over the Northern Iowa Panthers 3-0, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers 3-2 and the Iowa Hawkeyes 3-2.

The strength of the team is its offense. Iowa State is third in the conference in kills with 567 kills and in hitting percentage with a percentage of .260. 

In the three losses that the Cyclones do have, they have lost the first set. Their defense hasn’t been as good as their offense as they have hit 662 digs, but their opponents have hit 661 digs against them.

Iowa State missed the NCAA tournament last season but won the National Invitational Volleyball Championship.

The Cyclones finished the season 21-13 (9-7 Big 12). 

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Middle blocker Candelaria Herrera (left) and outside hitter Josie Herbst (right) jump to block the ball during the Iowa State vs. Kansas State volleyball game Oct. 26 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones won 3-1.

Eleven out of the 16 players on the Cyclones’ roster this season are underclassmen. 

In the next couple of seasons, Iowa State could challenge Baylor and Texas for one of the top two spots in the Big 12, once its young players get some experience.

However, this season they’ll likely finish between third and fifth. 

“We are still figuring things out, but we are dangerous,” Johnson-Lynch said.

Kansas Jayhawks

AVCA Coaches Ranking: NR

Current Record: 4-6 

Predictions: Ninth (Sam), eighth (Jack)

Analysis: 

Kansas started off the season well with a 3-0 record but after a 3-1 loss against South Carolina and a 3-0 loss to Central Florida, things began to go downhill. 

The Jayhawks are 1-6 in their last seven matchups and have only won one out their last 13 sets. 

Three out of Kansas’s four wins this season have been a sweep of their opponent. 

Last season, the Jayhawks were ranked 22nd in the country on Oct. 20 but then lost their last seven out of nine games, finishing with a record of 15-12 (8-8 Big 12).

Since that day, Kansas has a record of 6-12.

Kansas has really struggled offensively this season, only hitting .174, which is last in the Big 12. Expect the Jayhawks to finish near the bottom of the league. 

Kansas State Wildcats

AVCA Coaches Ranking: NR

Current Record: 5-7

Prediction: Eighth (Sam), ninth (Jack)

Analysis: 

Kansas State has yet to play a team in the AVCA Coaches Top 25 and the Wildcats will struggle in a solid, albeit top-heavy, Big 12.

The team has had a solid attack so far this season with a hitting percentage of .250, which is good for the 81st best in the country, but the team's 1.7 blocks per set will lead to the team getting easily outscored by the better offenses in the conference.

One of Kansas State's seven losses was a 3-1 loss to NC State, a team Iowa State beat 3-1 this season at the Appalachian Invitational.

Oklahoma Sooners

AVCA Coaches Ranking: NR, receiving votes

Current Record: 8-3

Predictions: Third (Sam), fourth (Jack)

Analysis:

Oklahoma has had an excellent start to the season, earning a 3-2 win on the road against 11-2 Indiana, who has a win over No. 16 Kentucky. With an impressive win against the Hoosiers, the Sooners are receiving votes. 

The Sooners have been the best team in the conference as they have hit 15.32 digs per set, leading the conference in that stat. 

Offensively Oklahoma has not been good on the attack as it has a hitting percentage of .194, which is second-to-last in the Big 12. 

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Setter Jenna Brandt (left) and middle blocker Grace Lazard (right) attempt to block a ball from University of Oklahoma players during the volleyball game Oct. 3 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones lost 3-1.

Despite hitting .194, the Sooners have made up for their lack of production offensively, thanks to their defense. 

The Sooners have only allowed their opponents to have a combined hitting percentage of .176. 

One of the main reasons that the Sooners defense has been great is because of junior defensive specialist Keyton Kinley.

Kinley leads the Big 12 in digs per set with 5.05 and has the second most digs in the Big 12 with 207. 

Oklahoma has won five matches that have gone to the fifth set. If the Sooners can continue to win these close matches in conference play, they should be able to finish in the top four of the conference like they did last season.

Last season, Oklahoma and Iowa State finished tied for third in the conference at 9-7. That could very well happen again as both teams seem to be evenly matched on paper and both should sneak into the NCAA tournament.

TCU Horned Frogs

AVCA Coaches Ranking: NR

Current Record: 5-5

Prediction: Fifth (Sam), sixth (Jack)

Analysis: 

With the second-worst record entering the Big 12 regular season, it would be easy to dispatch TCU as a team that won’t be competitive in 2019. But unlike Kansas State, TCU has played a competitive out-of-conference schedule.

Three of TCU’s losses were sweeps by No. 23 Florida State, No. 17 Colorado State and No. 22 Rice.

TCU is the only team in the Big 12 with a lower hitting percentage (.208) than their opponent (.217) this season, but the team has a solid block, which averages 2.2 a game.

Audrey Nalls is the team's most valuable player on the attack and has 165 more attack attempts than the next player. Nalls averages 3.54 kills per set, but is hitting .154. Without relief from her teammates on the attack, Nalls will be every team's defensive focus when they face the Horned Frogs.

Texas Longhorns

AVCA Coaches Ranking: #6

Current Record: 6-2 

Predictions: Second (Sam), second (Jack)

Analysis: 

Last season's Big 12 champion Texas has suffered two early-season losses in 2019, but the Longhorns had three losses entering the 2018 season before yielding only one loss in the Big 12 regular season.

Two of Texas’ losses were against Stanford last season and the Cardinal, which is the top team in the country in the AVCA Coaches Poll and which beat Texas again this season, 3-2 this time.

Texas’ second loss also resulted in a 3-2 score, but it came at the hands of No. 22 Rice, a team which is 11-1 this season.

Despite those two losses, Texas has still proven itself as one of the best programs in the country with a sweep over No. 7 Minnesota and a 3-1 win over BYU.

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Outside hitter Josie Herbst goes for the spike against Texas on Oct. 24 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones lost 3-0 to Texas. 

As a team, the Longhorns’ biggest strength is their strong attack, which comes from the team's outside hitters.

Outside hitters Logan Eggleston and Micaya White rank in the top 50 nationally for kills per set. Eggleston ranks 41st with an average of 4.19 and White ranks 47th with an average of 4.13 kills a set.

As a team, the Longhorns have a hitting percentage of .327, which ranks fourth in the nation.

While Baylor may have the Longhorns edged out in the AVCA Top 25, the Longhorns will still be tough to overcome with their powerhouse offense and Baylor is the only team in the conference with the offensive firepower to realistically outscore Texas. 

Texas Tech Red Raiders

AVCA Coaches Ranking: NR

Current Record: 10-4 

Prediction: Sixth (Sam), seventh (Jack)

Analysis:

Texas Tech has played a weak non-conference schedule compared to other teams vying for positioning behind Baylor and Texas.

The Red Raiders were swept by Stephen F. Austin, a team receiving votes in the AVCA Top 25, and have only beat one Power Five opponent in Ohio State.

Outside of Ohio State, Tech has notable wins against the likes of Idaho, Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word.

Texas Tech currently ranks No. 42 in the country in hitting percentage with .268, but the high percentage can be attributed to the teams the Red Raiders have played.

On the attack, Emily Hill accounts for 35 percent of the teams kills and averages 4.85 kills a set, which is the eighth-best average in the country.

West Virginia Mountaineers

AVCA Coaches Ranking: NR

Current Record: 8-4 

Prediction: Seventh (Sam), fifth (Jack)

Analysis: 

Alexa Hasting enters the Big 12 regular season as one of the better back row players, in terms of digs per set. Hasting averages 4.92 digs a set, which is tied for 35th most in the country.

Outside of Hasting, the team also has a solid block averaging 2.2 a set and has a .217 hitting percentage with Kristin Lux and Kristina Jordan both over 115 kills this season. Despite their shared workload, both players are hitting below .200 this season.

In terms of AVCA ranking, the best team the Mountaineers faced before the Big 12 slate was No. 11 Hawaii, which beat West Virginia 3-1. 

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