Aug. 9, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Summer is usually a time when students scatter, getting as far away from campus and all things reminiscent of school as possible.
For the Georgia Tech volleyball team, the opposite was the case. They couldn’t get enough of volleyball, of O’Keefe Gym and of each other.
They’re hoping all that togetherness pays off now that official practices for the 2011 season are underway. The Gold/White Scrimmage is Aug. 20, and the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic is the 26th.
“Having everyone here this whole summer has been so beneficial,” said senior co-captain Bailey Hunter. “They’ve gotten acclimated with their academics, they’ve gotten acclimated as far as in the weight room and their conditioning and now practicing.”
“We were all here together, we all went through the same summer workouts. I think it’s only going to help with our cohesiveness and our chemistry and just talk on the court,” agreed junior co-captain Monique Mead. “Having our freshmen come in early, being able to know them personally before we get to know them on the court is going to be so helpful. They’re coming in here a little bit more comfortable and a little bit more acclimated to the intensity that we’re going through.”
While the coaches were not allowed at the summer practices, the players proved capable of running their own workouts. That was a relief for freshman setter Ali Santi, who is from Hawaii and was happy to have the time to get used to her new surroundings and potentially surrounding hitters.
“That was so important, especially for me as a setter,” she said. “I got a chance to play with each of the hitters. Instead of just walking into the gym this morning and being like, ‘Hi, I’m Ali.’ instead I got to know everyone and got to know Tech and how to get around. It was really helpful.”
One of the most memorable parts of the summer together came away from the volleyball court and Atlanta.
“It was really fun to get to go on a team-bonding trip and to just have everyone here,” said junior libero Susan Carlson, who went home to California for about a month, before returning for the second session. “We went to Bailey Hunter’s house in North Carolina and it was unbelievable. We stayed there with the whole team and for two nights and it was so much fun. It’s in the mountains. It’s not something that I’m used to. It was beautiful.”
“The more time we spend together, we learn to trust each other, I think it’s apparent on the court and it transfers over,” said sophomore setter Kaleigh Colson. “So I think it was beneficial to work out together. We had open gyms and got to touch a ball together and it builds from there.”
Head Coach Tonya Johnson was pleased with the foundation that was in place thanks to the summer work and liked what she saw from her team in its first workout.
“We came into the gym very focused and with a lot of intensity and energy,” said Johnson. “I look forward to that carrying over to this afternoon’s practice. I thought we did some good things. We had a ton of contact in three hours and we took advantage of our time in the gym. So it was good.”
The thought of two-a-days doesn’t dampen this team’s spirits. They are eagerly looking forward to seeing the payoff from their grueling summer in longer matches this season.
“We kept hitting a stopping point in fifth games [last season],” said junior libero Nicki Meyer, who went home to Florida for a little bit before joining the team for the second session. “There were so many that could have gone either way that just didn’t go our way last year. I think by working so hard like we did in the spring and all summer and through this preseason, it’ll be what we need to get that final little push in that fifth game.”
“Two-a-days are always really intense,” said Mead. “You get pushed to your limit because you’re always so tired and it’s so much practicing, so many reps and it just makes us better because during the season you’re going to be tired. So you have to learn how to push through that. I think it’s great.”
Not everybody was down on the two-a-days, however.
“I’ve always liked two-a-days. It’s good to rough it out and get in the gym, especially with new people and so many underclassmen,” agreed Hunter. “The more practice the merrier, especially with two weeks until our first match, which doesn’t feel like a long time at all. Even though you think about all the two-a-days you have, it’s really not that far away.”
“Two-a-days in general, it’s hard but it’s nice that we’re not in school while we have to do it,” said Carlson. “It’s just eat, sleep and play. I’m okay with that. Get a nap in the middle of the day then come back and work hard. Playing the sport you love. That’s all you do all day.”
It’s especially nice when you like the people with whom you’re doing it.
“I feel the chemistry is where it needs to be,” said Hunter. “It’s certainly better than what it’s been in past because we’ve never had our whole team here for the summer. So it’s been a unique experience.”