Friday Night Spotlight

Nov. 25, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

For four years, fall and winter Friday nights at O’Keefe Gymnasium have been emotional for setter Mary Ashley Tippins and libero Jordan McCullers.

This Friday night will be more emotional than usual.

When the senior co-captains lead the Georgia Tech Volleyball team onto the floor against Clemson in the 2010 season finale (a special 6:30 p.m. starting time), and for the last time in their storied careers, there will be plenty of emotion, of all kinds.

“I’m excited,” said McCullers, who enters the match with 1,446 career digs, 10 away from moving into fourth place on the school’s all-time list. “I really want to enjoy this last match in our home gym.

“Out of all the teams to have at home, I’m glad it’s Clemson,” she added. “Clemson has always been one of our biggest volleyball rivalries, so to have them in O’Keefe for our last game will definitely stick in my mind forever.”

“There are a lot of different emotions,” said Tippins, who this week was one of four Yellow Jackets named All-ACC and who enters the game third all-time in school history in assists with 3,594, having passed her predecessor Allie Niekamp during the team’s last match at North Carolina. “Volleyball’s my life, it’s my passion. Just the fact that this Friday is my actual last day playing collegiate volleyball is so depressing for me because I don’t want it to be over yet.

“I’ve enjoyed my four years here and playing in O’Keefe Gymnasium,” she continued. “I’m not ready at all for it to be over with. So it’s bittersweet in a way. I’m very emotional about it all. The fact that Jordan and I probably won’t play at this level again together is another big issue for me. I’m an emotional person. It’s going to be a rough night for me, probably.”

The Jackets come in having lost three of their last four matches and seven of 10, a slide that has put them in sixth place, with a 10-9 conference record. They could still finish anywhere from third to 10th.

“This year has been extremely crazy,” said Tippins. “We’ve been saying, that any team can win on any day. That definitely goes for the ACC. It says a lot about the character of our conference, that there are a ton of good players and a lot of good teams.”

McCullers can’t remember a season as unpredictable as 2010.

“Even for the ACC this year has been just nuts,” she said. “Teams beating teams that they shouldn’t beat and teams losing games they shouldn’t lose. It’s just been absolutely crazy but that’s awesome for our conference and it says a lot about the competition that we have building and growing in this conference.”

In looking back, the duo, which was so inseparable that they earned the nickname “Jordash” — “as in the jeans, but much cooler than the jeans,” said McCullers, with a laugh — have shared so many memories, good and bad.

That’s why it’s fitting that they go out together.

“She’s my best friend. We’ve been through so much, especially in college,” said Tippins. “This isn’t going to necessarily end our relationship, obviously, but our lives are going to be headed in two separate ways after this. We’re not going to be seeing each other 24-7. We’ll have other things.”

“I think honoring us together is going to be one of the most special moments I’ll have in these four years”, said McCullers. “She and I have been through everything together. We’ve been through some of the happiest moments of our lives together and we’ve been through some of the lowest of the low moments together. In that moment when both our names are called and we’re out there, just us two, together, it will kind of be a reminder of everything we’ve been through together. I think that’s pretty special.”

Also special will be their lasting memories of O’Keefe Gymnasium and the fans.

“I just love to be out there and to play. It makes me happy, it is my escape, my outlet out there,” said Tippins. “Playing in front of my family and all my friends and all the fans, who just love the sport and love to come support us, it’s an incredible feeling to hear the gym roar when we get a point and how they have our backs no matter what. I know I’ve enjoyed every single moment out there on the court in O’Keefe.”

“The atmosphere in O’Keefe is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been,” agreed McCullers. “The fans are unbelievable. They always come out, they’re always loud, they’re in the other teams’ faces, they support us no matter when we win or if we lose. It’s a small gym and all the fans are right there, so it makes you feel like they’re playing right next to you. It’s an environment unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.”

Each recalled her finest volleyball moment at Tech. Fittingly both came at O’Keefe.

For Tippins, it came early in her career — Sept. 7, 2007, to be exact.

“My freshman year against Georgia in O’Keefe, the main setter (Niekamp) was out with Mono, and so I was basically thrown into the starting position,” she recalled of the match, in which she had 60 assists. “I hadn’t really been practicing with the starters, the A-side. The Georgia match was basically my opening match for Georgia Tech. We beat Georgia (3-1) and it was a huge rush.”

While not as dramatic, McCullers’ favorite memory also involved unexpectedly pleasing the fans.

“They let me play outside hitter against Boston College my sophomore year (Nov. 21, 2008),” she recalled. “I think I might have gotten one kill, but I was up there for two long plays. They set me, literally, every single ball. I thought I was just going to get up there and kind of just be able to play front row, not actually get set a ball. But they set me every single ball and it took me about seven balls before I got the kill. I was completely out of my element but it was one of THE most fun memories I have. The fans all knew that I wasn’t a front-row hitter and the other team knew. It was one of those moments that you don’t forget.”

As Tippins and McCullers prepare to move on, they’ll never forget their days on The Flats but also are excited about things to come.

“As sad as I am to have this happen, I have so much faith in our future program,” said Tippins. “Even though our season didn’t go the way we planned, this program has so much potential and I’m very excited about it all.”

They also agreed that it will be tough to say goodbye.

“It really has not sunk in that this is really the last one,” said McCullers. “I feel like I’m going to walk into the gym for spring practices and they’re going to have to kick me out before it actually sinks in.”

“Me and Jordan, I can see us say, ‘Let’s just go,'” added Tippins. “We’ll probably get in the way and Tonya will definitely have to kick us out.”

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