#STINGDAILY: Churning Away

Sept. 19, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

The ACC season is right around the corner, and Tonya Johnsonhas better ideas about how to attack it, but still the Georgia Tech volleyball coach is searching for combinations and strategies.

With a match tonight against Tennessee and a pair Saturday against Coastal Carolina and Jacksonville State, the Yellow Jackets will wrap up “pre-season” play before traveling to play at Maryland next Friday and Pittsburgh next Sunday.

With four freshmen seeing significant playing time, the task of integration has been a bit greater than in many seasons. Johnson, however, is getting a grip on what she’s got.

This much she knows for sure: she’s deploying more players.

“In the past, I haven’t subbed a lot. I’ve had a rotation of six to eight, maybe nine kids. There could be 10 or 11 kids playing now,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to be flexible. We have a couple kids who can do different things.

“From that standpoint, I think we’ve subbed quite a bit more than we have in previous years trying to get the right matchup, or a bigger block, or trying to get out of an offense that is predictable.”

Senior Quinn Evans and sophomore Chanell Clark-Bibbs have been stalwarts at the middle blocker spots, senior Jennifer Percy has been steady at one of the outside hitter spots and senior setter Kaleigh Colsonhas stayed busy.

Beyond that, the roster has churned.

Freshman middle blocker Teegan Van Gunst has been in the mix and fellow newcomers London Ackermann (libero), setter Rebecca Martinand Van Gunst’s twin sister, Annika, is on the rise both in the middle and on the right outside.

“Annika is just now starting to play quite a bit, and she’ll probably start this weekend,” Johnson said. “Teegan’s been on the floor since match No. 1, and London has worked her way to the libero spot, and Becca has been in and out of the setter spot.”

The Jackets (4-5) were impressive in a 3-0 win over Connecticut in their last match, the finale of the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic. Johnson is now looking for more consistency, especially from her newest players.

“I think this freshman class is very competitive. From the day we signed them, a phrase I used was blue collar,” the coach said. “They came into our program, and they haven’t changed their personalities. You recruit kids for a reason, and you don’t want them to change in your program. The message is, ‘Be who you are, do work.’ “

The youngsters have been at it, and everybody else has as well. The Jackets are jelling.

“I’m pleased with the fact that nothing has really been intimidating to them. They’ve been receptive to everything, and so have the upper classmen,” Johnson said. “I think for the most part, the positions have been solidified.

“The setting position, I think that’s one that we’ll go back and forth a little bit this year based on what we need offensively. A lot of it’s based off who we’re playing.”

The meat of the season is coming.

“I think the competition day in and day out is going to be stiffer [in the ACC] for what Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse bring to the table, and Virginia, Maryland and Boston College are all better than when I got into the league in 2009,” Johnson said.

“I think our league is pretty darned competitive, and then you add Louisville next year and you can’t take a night off in this conference. I think we’ve become with the addition of those schools a pretty dominant volleyball conference. Adding those schools will certainly elevate our conference.”

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