HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As many fans anxiously await the start of college football season, the Big 12 Conference era is already underway at the University of Houston.
On Thursday, the UH women's soccer team took part in the first regular season contest for UH as a member of the Big 12. The Cougars played to a scoreless tie at Washington.
Volleyball's regular season begins Aug. 25, and UH will start its inaugural campaign in the Big 12 ranked 19th in the nation. It's the highest preseason ranking in the history of the program.
"Others in the country are respecting what we did last year and respecting that it's not a one-hit-wonder," Houston head volleyball coach David Rehr told ABC13. "The pressure now comes with having to live up to that hype."
"It's pretty special because we've been working really hard to build up this program from even where it was four years ago," Houston senior libero Kate Georgiades admitted. "To have that recognition before we even start is pretty special."
Last season, UH went 30-4 and captured the program's first NCAA Tournament victory and conference title in decades.
In addition to adding three transfers from Power 5 programs for the 2023 season, the Coogs return a pair of All-Americans from last season's team that finished ranked 17th in the country. One of those All-Americans is Georgiades - who was voted preseason All-Big 12. However, that's not the only honor for Kate.
Just south of downtown Houston, where I-45 and the Southwest Freeway meet, there's a UH billboard celebrating the Cougars' move to the Big 12 Conference.
It features legends such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Carl Lewis, Andre Ware, Fred Couples, and Georgiades.
"I feel like I don't really deserve to be up there," Georgiades said humbly. "It's just really cool to see what I can do for the sport of volleyball. It doesn't even have to be me that they know, just to have a volleyball player up there with Houston's greatest athletes."
Kate tells ABC13 she drives past the billboard nearly daily, as it's on her drive home from campus. There's a different type of travel ahead for the Coogs.
Because of the massive jump in revenue that's to come from the Big 12 Conference's television rights deal, the overall athletics budget at UH will grow. Within the Coogs' first three years in the league, UH's total budget for all sports will increase by nearly $20 million annually.
Coach Rehr says this year's squad will already benefit from the big money in the Big 12.
"Being able to have a better travel budget will help the kids recover, will help the kids get better in school, will help the kids just be home," Rehr said. "Selfishly for me, I can be with my family. We can play a 5 p.m. match, and I can be home with my family that night. The Big 12 money lets us charter some flights to get home faster. It lets us give the kids more things they can be successful with. It's invaluable."
The 19th-ranked Cougars open the regular season on Aug. 25 at home at 8 p.m. vs. nationally-ranked USC.