Yossiana Pressley competes for the Baylor Women's Volleyball team versus West Virginia.
For a week, Yossiana Pressley trained with and competed against some of the most promising young volleyball players in the U.S. national team pipeline. When she returned to campus to finish out her sophomore year at Baylor, Pressley knew exactly what she needed to take her game to the next level.
“I hate skinning my arms,” said Pressley, a 6-foot outside hitter from the Houston area. “So, I thought, ‘Okay, if I hate doing that, I need to do something to prevent that.’ Boom … arm sleeves. Now, I have no excuse not to get down.”
Problem solved. Pressley picked up a pair of black polyester sleeves, quickly got over the unfamiliar skin-tight feeling on her forearms, and went to work.
It might sound peculiar that one of college volleyball’s leaders in kills would be unnerved by the threat of a floor burn, but Pressley’s solution-oriented approach is decidedly on brand. Progress, she knows, is incremental. And ever since she started playing volleyball, Pressley has been committed to finding ways, however specific or nuanced, to get better.
“Getting the sleeves got me over that mental block of skinning my arms,” said Pressley. “That reassured me. I had no more excuses.”
That she’s even playing volleyball at all is the result of such an adjustment. Pressley only came to the game because basketball made her uncomfortable — not the game, per se, but the contact.
“I don’t like people touching me,” said Pressley, who once fractured her arm getting tangled up with an opponent battling for a loose ball. “In volleyball, the other team’s on the other side of the court, we don’t touch each other.”
That was good enough for Pressley, who soon found a home on the volleyball court, even with the floor burns. As a high school player in Cypress, Texas, she developed into the kind of prospect that made top college programs take notice. But it was the new coach at Baylor, Ryan McGuyre, who enticed Pressley with the possibility of building something special.
“I had to sell her on the vision, what my expectations were, what we could accomplish here with her,” said McGuyre, who arrived at Baylor in 2016. “There was a lot of talk about wanting to go somewhere she could be the spark, to be the start of something.”
That opportunity to grow — her game and her program — appealed to Pressley, even with the inevitable growing pains. She came to Waco as an Under Armour first-team All-American expecting to play outside hitter, her natural position. But Katie Staiger was entrenched there, coming off a season in which she had nearly 700 kills. So, Pressley transitioned to opposite, a new position where the job description was different and everything literally was backwards.
“She wasn’t used to seeing the ball coming over her left shoulder,” McGuyre said.
“I’m a right-handed hitter, so everything was so weird,” said Pressley, who remembers being so frustrated by her perceived lack of progress that she cried, fearing her coach was displeased with her or that she was letting down her new teammates. “It was a great learning opportunity, looking back at it. You go to college expecting x-y-z and it ends up being a-b-c. I kept my head, I did what I needed to do. I adjusted to being a right-side player because that’s what my team needed. In life, everything is not going to be fair. Being able to adjust to something new helped me learn and improve.”
It certainly didn’t set her back at all. Pressley was named Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year in 2017 after becoming the first freshman to lead the league in points and kills. She actually filled in at outside hitter when Staiger was injured, then settled there for good the following season, after which she earned the invitation to work with the U.S. women’s national team during that spring training camp in mid-March 2019. It was an opportunity for Pressley to make a first impression on USA Volleyball decision-makers, including national team coach Karch Kiraly. Just as important, it provided her a chance to begin fulfilling a promise she had made to her father years before.
“My dad’s my best friend,” Pressley said. “I told him, ‘I’m going to play in the Olympics. I’m going to play on the national team. I will be on that team.’”
Only when she was at camp, surrounded (by design) by older, more accomplished college stars and players already on the national team roster, Pressley could see for the first time how much work remained before she could feel she belonged at her sport’s highest levels.
“I learned that I needed to get better at everything,” Pressley said. “I needed to improve on my blocking, which I’m now doing a lot better with. I needed to improve on my passing. I needed to improve on defense, because balls are coming at you much faster. I realized, dang, I was not improving on my digging as much as I thought I was.”
Hence, the sleeves. No floor burns were going to impede Pressley’s pursuit.
Since then, she has blossomed into one of the most dynamic players in college volleyball. She was the AVCA National Player of the Year in 2019, after leading Baylor to its first No. 1 regular-season ranking and its first trip to the semifinal round of the NCAA championships. She’s registered 30-kill games and surpassed Staiger for second place on Baylor’s all-time kills list.
Along the way, she has developed something of a cult following. Pressley’s athletic grace and punishing power are immediately evident to the thousands who have watched the many video compilations making the rounds on YouTube, highlighting her most sensational kills — “Jump and Thump” has become the gameplan at Baylor. And there’s that one photograph, in particular, that captures the near-absurdity of Pressley’s leaping ability. Frozen in a single frame, Pressley’s waist appears nearly at the top of the net — regulation height: 7 feet, 4 inches. Her right knee is above the shoulders of her nearest teammate. The look on the face of her opponent across the net, standing in the path of the ball Pressley is striking down upon, is a mix of astonishment and abject terror.
Pressley, though, is the only one unimpressed by the hoopla. She bashfully concedes that she’s aware her vertical leap has been measured at 41 ½ inches (“I know what I’ve touched on that little vertical thingy,” she said, playing down the fact that she reached 10 feet, 9 ½ inches — three-quarters of a foot above a basketball rim).
She does, however, admit to watching game videos on YouTube … but not for the same reason volleyball fans do.
“When I watch film, I’m always critiquing myself,” Pressley said. “I should have went here or maybe I could’ve done this better. I can always apply that to my next practice.”
Because no matter how lofty her accomplishments have been to date, Pressley knows it’s the climb still to come that matters.