Oct. 15, 2012
By Jon Cooper
There was a feeling in the air Monday morning as the Georgia Tech Volleyball team gathered in preparation for its chartered bus trip to Athens for tonight’s match with the University of Georgia. The match takes place at Stegeman Coliseum and begins at 7:00 p.m.
It was an air of confidence, bordering on invincibility and was especially present in its five seniors — outside hitters Monique Mead and Bailey Hunter, middle blocker Annie Czarnecki, and defensive specialist/liberos Nicki Meyer and Susan Carlson — who will play their final match in the heated rivalry.
It’s not that the quintet is cocky or lacking respect for the Bulldogs.
It’s just hard for them to discuss something they’ve never done — lose to their arch-rival.
“Oh, yeah, we know,” said Carlson, breaking into a smile. “It’s not something you forget. You don’t forget beating Georgia.”
“We’ve had UGA pretty locked down for the past couple of years,” said Hunter. “So going into it with any other expectation of beating them would be pretty detrimental. But I’m pretty excited about it.”
They’re excited about continuing the trend that has seen Tech win the last six times the schools have met, and the last two times in Athens.
While tonight’s match-up will be played in the much larger Stegeman Coliseum, Tech is going in with an attitude of nothing to fear.
“I don’t think there will be a big difference,” said Mead. “Obviously, playing somewhere you’re not used to is going to be a little different but we’ll have two practices before we play the match, so we’ll be able to get used to it.”
What Mead and Co. are determined NOT to get used to is coming up on the short end against UGA.
“It’s so important to be able to say that you beat your rival,” said Mead. “It helps make or break your season. If you can say you beat Georgia that’s always a huge deal. These past several years we’ve beaten them up. So to hell with Georgia. Hopefully we’ll come out with another win.”
Another anomaly is that the match is being played on a Tuesday, following a weekend road trip. Neither the midweek grind nor the short turnaround is expected to be a factor.
“It’s different having a game on a Tuesday than it is playing them on a Friday night,” said Carlson, who was under the weather and sat out last weekend’s matches at Wake Forest and Duke. “I would prefer playing them on a Friday night because it just seems like it’s a bigger deal when it’s the weekend, but you can’t make anything a bigger deal than playing your rivals. It’s my last time I get to play Georgia, so there’s nothing that can hold me back.”
The Jackets can talk tough as they have backed it up.
In this senior class’ three previous meetings, Tech has won a pair of 3-2 decisions then took last year’s match in a 3-0 whitewash at O’Keefe. Last year’s match is not only fresh in the team’s memory, but ranks among its favorite matches in the rivalry.
“I know my freshman and sophomore year the games went to five and were really dramatic,” said Meyer. “Last year they came here, we had a sold-out gym and we beat them in three and it was nothing. It was really fun just to slam the door in their face that early and just walk out of the gym with a 3-0 victory against them.
“I’m really hopeful that we’ll make it 4-0 against our biggest rival,” she added. “I’ve always been anti-Georgia and so I’m excited to beat up on them one more time.”
Last year’s rout was something of an outlier. The previous years’ intensity and the close matches are more the rule.
“The year before that (2010), when we beat them at Georgia was probably the best,” said Carlson. “Our fans came out and were super loud and supportive and we played really well and beat them in five. Last year we were just really focused and got in and out and hopefully that’s what it’s like this year, straight from beginning to end we’re focused and focused on the win.”
“The first Georgia Tech Volleyball match I ever went to was our match my freshman year vs. Georgia here at O’Keefe,” recalled Czarnecki. “It was completely packed, it was hot, it was crazy and we won in five. It was just a great atmosphere. That showed me how intense the rivalry was and just made me really excited to compete and have a part in it. It was probably my favorite one I’ve been to at Tech.”
Until last year, five had been a magic number for the Yellow Jackets as far as the number of sets required to win.
That number takes on a whole different dynamic tonight for Hunter, who will play her fifth career match against UGA, the first Yellow Jacket ever who can make such a claim. Call her pursuit of 5-0 a healthy obsession, as this year, unlike last, Hunter is healthy.
“To go out there and be 100 percent is really exciting, especially because last year I had to hold back a little bit,” said the redshirt senior, who admitted playing against best friend Kathleen Gates, UGA’s former setter, had been major incentive the previous four years. “It’s about going out on a tip-top plateau, knowing that I’ve beat Georgia five times and Mo, Susan, Nicki, and Annie can say they beaten Georgia four times. It’s important to know you’ve capped that off your senior year.”
It’s also important to pass on the tradition of beating Georgia to the team’s three freshmen, setter Callie Bivings, defensive specialist/libero Wimberly Wilson and middle blocker Chanell Clark-Bibbs.
“Callie and Wimberly are from Georgia, so they understand the rivalry and Chanell (a Houston, Texas, native) is a competitive person, so trying to explain the rivalry between us and Georgia is easy because she wants to win every single game,” said Hunter. “It’s not like you have to motivate or pump them up. Everybody’s motivated.”
There’s extra motivation as the Jackets would like to reverse a trend that has seen them win only one of six road matches.
“We’ve struggled with away games and winning games on their court,” agreed Carlson. “But it should be no different this year with Georgia. I want to go out 4-0. There’s no losing to them in my career here.”
“We had a tough loss (on Saturday) against Duke,” said Meyer. “So we’re all fired up and ready to get on the court again and take out some anger. Georgia just happens to be the team that’s in our way.”
The Jackets are expecting a big turnout of fans, as at least one busload is making the trip.
“I think the atmosphere is going to be really great and loud and electric and I’m really excited to play,” said Meyer. “Our fans are THE best and I know they’re going to travel and they’re going to be there for us. We’ll have lots of support there.”