Last First Impression

Aug. 25, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Being a senior is comparable to being a freshman in one regard.

Just as a freshman can only make one first impression, a senior has only one shot to make a final one.

That’s not lost on the team’s two seniors, outside hitter and co-captain Bailey Hunter and middle blocker Asia Stawicka.

Georgia Tech Head Volleyball coach Tonya Johnson would like nothing better than for them to go out on a good note.

“It’s the last go-round for both of them and I would love to see them go out on a very high note with us winning an ACC Championship and getting back to the NCAA Tournament,” Johnson said. “So those two have improved tremendously in the course of the last few years and I’m looking forward to watching them play their senior year and going out on a high note.”

Hunter and Stawicka will take the first step toward achieving those goals on Friday night, when the Yellow Jackets take on Kansas State in their season opener, as part of the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic being held at O’Keefe Gym. The match begins at 7:00 p.m. and is the main event of the first day of the weekend competition. Louisville and Tennessee Tech kick off the Classic at 4:30.

“It’s weird to hear someone say ‘My last go-round,'” said Hunter, who has 846 kills (2.9 per set) through her first three years. “Everyone’s going to laugh at me because I get so emotional about being a senior.”

Hunter, named Pre-season All-ACC with fellow outside hitter Monique Mead, is coming off a junior season that saw her named All-ACC (366 kills, second on the team, and 33 service aces, tied with Mead for the team lead). The personal glory was small consolation, as the team finished 18-14, (11-9 in ACC play), losing seven of its final 11 matches and failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

The 2011 squad was ranked fifth in the preseason ACC poll, slightly ahead of Virginia Tech, but the seniors plan to have their say and believe Tech will as well.

“I know I’m the senior and I have to lead and be the role model,” said Stawicka, who has earned back-to-back All-ACC Academic Team berths, and led the team in hitting percentage (.314, ninth in the ACC), and was second in kills (236) and blocks (78, 10th in the League) last season. “I know it’s a time I have to step up and actually be the senior. I have to step up and become the leader. That’s actually a new role for me.”

The native of Warsaw, Poland, will be the elder statesman for a young group of six middle blockers, which includes freshmen Ashtaan Horton and Courtney Felinski, a first-year player in sophomore Quinn Evans, rising star, but only second-year player Alexis Woodson, and relatively inexperienced Annie Czarnecki, both juniors.

The Jackets hope to use the Courtyard Classic as a springboard into the ’11 season. They’ll have a little extra incentive in their opener, as Kansas State, beat Tech, 3-0, at last year’s Varney’s Kansas State Invitational, held in Manhattan, Kan. Tech would like to return the favor on its home floor.

While a good start at the Courtyard Classic is ideal, where the Jackets finish and the direction the program is going once they leave is more important to Hunter and Stawicka.

“Of course, I want to win the ACC and get to the Tournament,” said Stawicka. “I also want to be a better player, mentally and also be better physically, just give 110 percent every time I practice and play.”

“I want to be a good leader,” Hunter said. “That’s the biggest thing, to lead by example and help these girls build a legacy for the next years. I want to see myself take this team to the next level, especially after last year. I want to see us win the ACC and win the [NCAA] Tournament.

“Personally, I’d love to be an All-American,” she added. “That’s always been a goal of mine. So I’m going to work for that and obviously, pre-season All-ACC and post-season, which I got last year and was exciting. So, hopefully I can get those again.”

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