#STINGDAILY: Chemical Bonds

April 21, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

There are no scores to prove how well Georgia Tech volleyball played during its five-match slate of spring games against Kennesaw State, South Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and at Middle Tennessee State.

There are no stats to point to who shined in the different categories.

But the lack of hard data didn’t bother Head Coach Tonya Johnson. She didn’t need numbers to tell her that she liked what she saw, and, more important, what she DIDN’T see during what she described as “a great spring.”

“I thought there were a lot of excuses our returners could have used to not be good this spring but they never made excuses,” said Johnson, who will begin her fifth season at the helm of the program. “They showed up to work in individual and in the team training. They improved a ton.”

The Jackets’ 19-12 overall record in 2012 was the second-most wins since Johnson took over and marked a four-win improvement over 2011. Their 10-10 ledger in ACC play was two games better than 2011.

While the 2013 edition is going to look a lot different than 2012, and the team will miss graduated outside hitters Monique Mead, Bailey Hunter, middle blocker Annie Czarnecki, and liberos/defensive specialists Nicki Meyer and Susan Carlson, they prefer to see the coming season as an open door for more floor time.

As the spring showed, the squad is full of talented players eager to kick that door in — and that doesn’t even include the incoming freshman class.

Some of the most impressive play came on the front line. Middle blockers Quinn Evans (a senior) and Chanell Clark-Bibbs (a sophomore) and senior outside hitter Ivona Kolak got Johnson’s attention.

“Quinn and Chanell did a great job from the standpoint of just taking in all of the training and all of the technical stuff and made some changes. You could definitely see some improvement in those two,” said Johnson. “Then we moved ‘Ivvy’ (Kolak) from the left side to the right side, which is where she played before she got here, so it’s a little more natural for her. I thought that she did an incredible job on the right side this spring.”

Coachability and a hunger to improve were things Johnson saw throughout the team.

“As individuals and as a team, they were coachable and they allowed us to challenge them,” she said. “I thought that was huge for this group coming back, to allow us to change some things technically, but more important, to allow us to challenge them in the gym. They responded to that very well this spring.”

As important was that the players, while aware of the opportunity to get more individual playing time, didn’t go after it at the expense of the team.

“They played for each other and they played together. You could certainly see that,” said Johnson. “Even in the sets that we were down they stayed poised and kept pecking away and kept themselves alive. I just thought as a team and as a group, they meshed pretty well together and you could see that cohesiveness on the court.”

Keeping that chemistry once finals conclude and during the summer is the next step. Johnson is optimistic that can happen.

“All of the returners will be here for summer school,” she said. “It’s going to be important, from a lifting and conditioning standpoint, that we’re getting in and we’re getting our workouts in and then we’re getting in and doing open gym and touching the ball this summer. That’s going to be really, really important.

“We can’t go for weeks without touching the ball because that’s just not our sport,” she added. “Our sport is so technical that we have to play consistently to get better at it. That’s got to be the goal for this team this summer and to continue to build their trust and their bond with each other.”

Beyond strengthening the bond with each other, there is the mission — potentially starting during summer school sessions — of forming and strengthening a bond with the incoming freshmen.

“Our gym is an opportunity-oriented gym,” Johnson said. “The important thing is going to be all of our returners embracing all of the freshmen when they get here, not at the end of gym.

“Because our season is so long and because we do so much pounding we’re going to have to rely on our freshmen at some point in time,” she added. “We’ve got to become a team quickly when those freshmen get here and embrace that and understand that. It’s going to make our gym way more competitive and it’s going to make our gym way better. That’s going to be awesome when you can be in that type of competitive environment every day.”

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