Let’s call the game four of the fall finals.

When Thursday and Friday (8:00 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network) are played at Texas Baylor No. 3, the stakes are high, even though the NCAA Volleyball Championship will not be held for another five months.

The race for the Big 12 championship will continue and with it the automatic participation in the NCAA tournament. Both teams are looking for new victories in this unique autumn season, rejuvenated by coronavirus pandemics.

And given Texas’ long tradition of winning and Baylor’s performance in the finals a year ago, this heavyweight competition is not only a highlight of the university’s unconventional volleyball game in the fall of 2020, but also a foretaste of what could happen in the spring.

It’s great, says Texas coach Jerritt Elliott. It’s exciting for our players. … I know Baylor and our program like to compete at this level and see where we stand.

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We’re really excited, said Baylor boiler setter Hannah Cedwick. It’s always fun to play against Texas.

Given the difficult conditions that have affected all sports at the university, both teams have found ways to succeed.

Longhorns (10-0) and bears (11-1) have made important changes. Instead of the usual home location, the 4,000-seat Gregory Intimate Gymnasium, Texas hosted home games at the much larger Frank Erwin Center (16,540 seats), where Texas basketball is played to relax during the games. Baylor is already used to playing at the Ferrell Center (6,000 seats for volleyball), but he has done so with fewer fans thanks to COVID 19 protocols.

Texas street fighter Logan Eggleston admitted it was strange when the Longhorns first played in Erwin, with distracting fans who didn’t allow the noisy atmosphere they were used to in Gregory’s crowded hall. But as time went on, she started to like him.

I love playing against Frank Erwin; I think it’s cool to play in a big environment, Eggleston said. We certainly feel much more comfortable there.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Baylor’s Yossiana Presley was named the VCAA National Player of the Year last season and is the reigning player of the Big 12. Baylor Athletics

Like all teams in the Big 12, Baylor and Texas are in the home part of the 16-game conference. Instead of playing twice a week with different opponents spread over several days, they play at night twice in a row against the same opponent to minimize travel.

Baylor coach Ryan McGuire likes the way the Bears handled it.

We were very good on the second day of the season, McGuire said. On the other hand, how can we be a little sharper and better prepared for the first game of the week?

The physical and mental escapes from the program were not easy, but the bears resisted.

I feel like we’re getting along, Baylor told Josiane Presley’s killer. We just do everything we can to make sure that we do everything we can, whether it’s extra rehearsals before and after training, early admission to detoxification, we just do everything we can to make sure that we’re good in general and that we do our job … and get the most out of every day.

Elliott’s goal was to take on the challenges with his team in a positive way and make this year special.

They really took it, he says. And now their goals are in sight, their first goal [winning the Big 12 Championship], and they see their improvements, and they clearly want to achieve high goals at that level.

Fault! The file name is not specified. CoachJerritt Elliott, who is finishing his 20-year stint in Texas, has a 10-0 lead ahead of the Longhorns and takes first place. AP Photo/Garry Jones

Let’s add to the uncertainty the next break that the teams will have. As soon as the teams have completed the Big 12 calendar at the end of this month, they will take a break until the spring semester to prepare for the revised calendar and the games at the end of the season. The spring season starts on the 22nd. In January, the selection of the NCAA tournament will take place on 4 January. April, and the field will be smaller: 48 teams instead of the usual 64, and the last four will take place on 22 and 24. April. And the Big Ten and Pac-12 volleyball powerhouses, who have postponed the fall volleyball season to the spring semester, will join the fight.

With fewer participants, winning the conference championship – and an automatic entry after the season – is important, but both coaches feel that Baylor and Texas have shown enough to offer at least one big spot.

I think Baylor and Texas are safe now, Elliot said. I think they’ll take at least two [big teams of 12].

McGuire said: I feel like we’ve both done enough.

The games must be very competitive if the last game is something to pass. Last season, Baylor and Texas separated the Big 12 and split the two games (the game on both sides of the net was at such a high level, Eggleston said). They were the top two of last year’s tournament, which Baylor had included in their program for the first four finals. Texas, which has three national championships, four finals and a consistent record of producing all Americans, is a constant force.

The series will also have two stars: Presley, who last season was VCAA National Player of the Year and is the reigning Big 12 player of the year, and Eggleston, who in the first three weeks of this season was the Big 12 offensive player of the week and is second in the serving aces conference and fourth in the scoring standings.

After its history in 2019, Baylor strives to remain at an elitist level for the long term. Presley said last season’s defeat to Texas – which resulted in Baylor losing 18 times to the Longhorns – changed the players’ outlook.

It certainly looks different, Mr Presley. Last year [after the victory in Texas], it was like Oh, we can do it….. Years before that: Let’s try to get a sentence. … But now that we know we can win: Okay, let’s make sure we do X, Y and Z to achieve the same goal.

Said Eggleston: We all somehow expected him to come to us and Baylor… which would motivate us more.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Ryan McGuire, Baylor’s coach since 2015, led the Bears to the last four last season. Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos on Getty Images

McGuire, Baylor’s coach since 2015, said last year’s victory gave Baylor a confidence boost that helped them finish in the top four.

It was something that was part of the dream, part of the checklist, McGuire said. For example: Do you want to win the conference? We have to beat Texas.

The conference is still being held in Texas. I hope the other programs tell you this: It has to go through Baylor someday.

Elliott, who’s been in Texas for 20 years, told me I thought Baylor would stay here for a while.

And although the Bears are behind the Longhorns in the loss column, Presley said they don’t feel the extra pressure exerted on the series. Since they canceled the opening game of the season in Kansas, they are trying to get rid of all the Bears’ opponents.

We had to win twice in a row to maintain consistency, she said. It’s not necessarily new pressure. We know what to do and we’re gonna do it.

Whatever happens this week, both teams know that this is just a step – albeit an important one – towards a more important goal.

We know the games we’re playing in this fall thing, Eggleston said. It’s a good way to concentrate, because everything is so crazy this fall. … At least we know that at the end of this strange fall season, a championship will be named, which motivates us.

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