Aug. 28, 2011
By Jon Cooper
It would be understandable if the members of the Georgia Tech Volleyball Team had a little extra bounce in their step this week.
There were a lot of good things that happened and even more good things they made happen in winning all three matches of last weekend’s Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic.
“The kids played really well and responded really well,” said Head Coach Tonya Johnson. “I think I was most excited about our ability to execute during crunch time.”
Their strong play began on Friday night, when they bounced back from dropping the first set against Kansas State, 25-19, before taking the next three sets, 25-15, 25-23 and 27-25.
They passed the first test of their character in the third set, when, trailing 22-19, the Jackets reeled off five straight points to take control of the match, then clinch it. The fourth set it was another nail-biter, as Tech stared down set point against the Wildcats, who had swept out Tech in last year’s meeting in Manhattan, Kan. Trailing 24-23, Tech scored four of the next five points to close out the match.
Monique Mead had a double-double with 20 kills and 17 digs, while Bailey Hunter (14) and Jen Percy (10) also had double-figure kills. Freshman setter Ali Santi, making her collegiate debut, had 46 assists and nine digs.
The match started a trend for the Jackets, who were 7-0 in Games 3, 4 and 5 in the Tournament.
“It’s nice to see us compete all the way to the end,” said Johnson.
On Saturday, afternoon, in the first match of their double-header, Tech smoked Tennessee Tech, 25-11, 25-17 and 25-12. The Jackets dominated, as their latest deficit in any game was 3-2 in the first game, and they never trailed by as many as two points in any game.
Mead again led the way, with 13 kills, while Santi had 35 assists and Libero Nicki Meyer had a game-high 12 digs.
The Jackets saved the best for last in their finale against Louisville. They spotted the Cardinals two sets (25-12, 25-15) then roared back to win the final three sets, 25-19, 25-21 and 15-11.
Johnson noticed that even when the team was down 2-0, there was no quit in them.
“I think they had a lot of questions as to why they were performing that way,” she said. “We just went in and talked about all the things we had done that weekend and why we couldn’t do the same things against Louisville and be successful. They changed their mentality a little bit and got themselves going and got back into the match and we ended upcoming out on the positive side.”
In the third set, Tech trailed 1-0 then scored four straight points and were never headed. In the fourth set they never trailed although they did squander a four-point lead and all but one point of a five- point lead before holding Louisville off then scoring five of the game’s final six points to set up a deciding set.
It was at the end of the fourth set that Johnson felt her team had turned the corner and had the Cardinals on the run.
“I felt like our rhythm was pretty good and, on the defensive side of the ball, we started digging some balls and getting touches and blocking some balls which made a big difference in the match,” she said. “We were able to run our transition offense. Then our passing got better. We didn’t pass very well in games one and two so we never got in a rhythm offensively. So once we started passing the ball and doing those things, it made for a much better rhythm for us.”
The fifth set had been the Jackets’ Achillies’ heel last season and it looked like it might be again starting 2011. The Jackets jumped out 6-2 but then found themselves down 10-9. While last year’s team might have run out of gas, this year’s team hit the gas, going on a match- closing 6-1 run to take the victory.
“Last season we could not finish five-game matches,” Johnson said. “I thought the way we executed at the end and the way we kept our poise in the end spoke volumes about this team and how much they’ve matured over the last year.”
Mead was huge in the win, matching her career-high of 30 kills. She would be named Most Valuable Player of the Classic.
“I think that she’s learning how to take over a match,” said Johnson. “She certainly did a great job of that this weekend.”
Santi had a double-double with 41 assists and 14 digs and was named to the All-Tournament Team with Percy, while Meyer matched her career- high with 16 digs, and was named Most Valuable Libero.
“I thought Ali did a great job coming in as a freshman and starting this weekend,” said Johnson. “She was very composed out there and did a great job of taking on and commanding and having a presence on the court with the team. She took control of that and ran with it and did an outstanding job.”
“I take my hat off to Nicki Meyer,” the coach added. “I thought she did some incredible things. She was what we needed her to be. That was consistent and just really steady with her play and not so up and down. Once she was able to control that it was a pretty good weekend for her.”
The Jackets, who are 3-0 for the second time in three seasons under Johnson, look to carry their momentum into next weekend when they head to Houston for the Rice Tournament against the University of Texas @ San Antonio (UTSA), Houston Baptist and, host Rice.
“It’s important they remember that there’s a lot of season left and there are a lot of things we can be better at that we have to clean up,” Johnson said. “But I think they’re excited about the direction that we’re going. We’re going to try to keep looking forward, take this thing match by match and just go from there.”