Baylor junior outside hitter Yossiana Pressley has been money for NCAA volleyball's No. 1 seed all season long. But in the Bears' most important match -- one step away from the program's first final four -- she still found another gear.
"If we don't get that performance out of her that we did tonight, it's a different story," Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said after a 3-1 victory against Washington in Saturday's regional final in Waco, Texas. "Yossi brought it to the highest level. Champions are at the best when the best is expected, and she pulled through."
Pressley had 24 kills with just three errors, hitting .512 for the match against the Huskies. She and the Bears have reached heights the program could hardly have dreamed about when McGuyre took over in 2015. And after a season in which she has averaged 5.37 kills per set, Pressley is our espnW national player of the year and a member of our All-American team.
Hitters at 6 feet tall in today's world of elite women's volleyball are considered a bit on the smallish side. But Pressley's ability to elevate erases that; she can really get up in the air. She has an amazing amount of hang time, plus she can put a ton of power on her shots.
"Pressley hit them out of trouble quite a few times," Washington coach Keegan Cook said. "In situations where we're used to getting stuff blocks, or at least opportunities to create in transition, she found the smallest of windows. And she hit them hard. She caught edges of the block, and by the end of the game, you saw her use her full toolbox."
Pressley grew up in Florida and started playing volleyball for fun when she was in fifth grade. But her aunt, who coached club volleyball, could see her potential. Eventually, Pressley moved to Texas to live with her aunt and focus even more on the sport. While she was playing club ball in Texas, the previous Baylor coaching staff saw her and offered her a scholarship when she was 15.
She held off for a while to consider her options, then McGuyre took over the program. He also was impressed -- and Pressley committed to Baylor. During her freshman season, she averaged 3.62 kills per set, which jumped to 4.70 last year. She is a potent offensive player, but the defensive aspects of her game continue to improve, as well.
And what McGuyre said about her coming up big in the biggest moments proved true in two regular-season victories that went a long way toward Baylor earning the top seed. The first was in September at Wisconsin, which will be Baylor's foe in Thursday's national semifinal (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App). Pressley had 31 kills and 16 digs in a 3-1 victory over the Badgers.
Then in November, during the Bears' rematch with Texas, she had 31 kills and 24 digs in a five-set victory, which was just the third time in the history of the series that Baylor had prevailed. In that match, Pressley took 82 swings and had 17 errors.
On Saturday against Washington, she took just 41 swings in a performance that was as efficient as it was productive.
"I came with the same mentality, expecting to win," Pressley said. "I had to show up this match."
That's what she has been doing all season. And who joins her on the espnW All-American team? They will all be playing at the final four in Pittsburgh too -- three of them, in fact, on the same team.
Hitter: Yossiana Pressley, Baylor
Pressley was Big 12 player of the year, the first time a Baylor player has received that honor, as well as a first-team American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-American. But it was pretty clear from the time she started her college career that she would have a major impact. She was Big 12 freshman of the year in 2017 and became the first rookie in conference history to lead the league in points per set (4.85). She actually began her career as an opposite hitter, then moved to the outside position for the last 10 matches of her freshman season, and she has excelled there. Pressley has led the Big 12 in kills per set and points per set all three seasons.
Hitter: Kathryn Plummer, Stanford
She has been national player of the year the past two seasons, and when healthy this season, she played at that same level. Missing 10 matches with injury impacted her a bit on the postseason awards front. But considering all the hardware the senior already has, she isn't concerned with that; her focus is on winning a third national championship. Stanford wouldn't be in position to do that without Plummer's regional performance: She had a combined 53 kills, 15 digs and nine blocks. At 6-foot-6 and with the ability to hit any shot, Plummer is pretty much the prototype you'd build if you were constructing a superstar outside hitter. She doesn't tend to show as much emotion as some hitters do; her personality is more get it done, get ready for the next point. And it makes her even more intimidating. She did not play in enough sets to qualify for AVCA All-American honors.
Middle blocker: Dana Rettke, Wisconsin
Averaging 4.96 points per set, the junior Rettke is one of the biggest stars in college volleyball -- literally, at 6-foot-8, and in the way that she is both an offensive and defensive force. She gets 3.79 kills per set and is hitting .401 for the season. Rettke, the Big Ten player of the year and an AVCA All-American first teamer, also helps form a powerful block for the league champion Badgers, with 150 on the season. Like her team, which has four sweeps thus far in the NCAA tournament, she has been pretty much unstoppable in the postseason. In those four matches, Rettke has 44 kills to just seven errors, along with 24 blocks. She had 11 kills and eight blocks in the Badgers' loss to Baylor during the regular season, and now she will get another chance to face the Bears at the final four.
Middle blocker: Regan Pittman, Minnesota
A 6-foot-5 junior, Pittman has been one of the Golden Gophers' best blockers during all three of her seasons, leading them in that category over the past two. This year, she has 164, averaging 1.43 per set. Pittman also ranks fourth on the team with 2.19 kills per set and second with 26 service aces. She and fellow blocker Morgan Taylor are hitting an identical .356 for the season, as the Gophers' middles have been great support to the versatility of the team's hitters. Pittman had one of her best matches of the season in the regional semifinals against Florida, a five-setter in which the Gophers had to rally from down 2-1. With Minnesota's season on the line, Pittman had six of her 14 kills in the fourth set; she finished hitting .458, with six blocks and even four digs. She was named to the AVCA All-American first team.
Setter: Jenna Gray, Stanford
One mark of a great setter is how smoothly she can run the offense even in less-than-ideal circumstances, and Gray did that when top hitter Kathryn Plummer was out 10 matches due to an injury. Whether it was the familiar connections with longtime teammates such as Audriana Fitzmorris and Meghan McClure, utilizing the skills of graduate transfer Madeleine Gates or pumping up a freshman like Kendall Kipp, Gray pushed the right buttons to keep Stanford strong until Plummer returned. Gray also has a sense of what is needed in the moment, as her season-high eight blocks in the regional semifinals against Utah showed. The senior has 5,405 assists, second in Stanford history, and has been three-time Pac-12 setter of the year. She was named an AVCA first-team All-American for the third time, as she and the Cardinal seek their third NCAA title in four years.
Defensive specialist: Morgan Hentz, Stanford
Cardinal coach Kevin Hambly said that the senior Hentz thinks she should get to every ball that's hit, and sometimes it seems like she does. Like all the best liberos, Hentz has the mentality that no matter how hard she is tested, she'll find a way to get the ball up. She has some saves every match that you can't figure out how she got to. With 2,270, she is the program's all-time leader in digs, and she is averaging a career-best 4.94 per set this season. Hentz also has career bests this year in assists (140) and service aces (22). She had 23 digs in the Cardinal's toughest match of this NCAA tournament, the five-set regional semifinal victory against Utah. She was named to the AVCA All-American first team for the third time.
OH: Jordan Thompson, Cincinnati
OH: Mac May, UCLA
MB: Lauren Stivrins, Nebraska
MB: Shelly Stafford, Baylor
S: Sydney Hilley, Wisconsin
DS: Kendall White, Penn State