Aug 20, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Tonya Johnson isn’t afraid to poke a stick into the hornets’ nest and watch what happens.
In fact, Georgia Tech Volleyball’s head coach can’t wait to do just that — only with a Yellow Jackets’ nest — in front of what should be a packed O’Keefe Gym on Saturday afternoon at the annual Gold and White Scrimmage.
The event, which concludes the team’s preseason, begins at 2:00 p.m.
Johnson expects to see a level of play as high and points as hotly contested as they’ve been throughout preseason practices.
“Our gym has been pretty competitive,” said Johnson, who is about to embark on her fifth season as Tech’s head coach. “We’ve got people competing for spots and being pushed. But I also love the mentality of this team. They’ve come in and worked pretty hard. Our goal is to get better every day. I would expect on Saturday that the Gold and White Scrimmage will be a pretty competitive scrimmage.”
As is the custom, the players will not know which color jersey they’ll wear until the end of the week, but Johnson promises that regardless, they will show a lot of pride and that the two teams will be split up pretty evenly as they take the floor to play three sets to 25.
The Jackets returned only one starter from 2012 — setter Kaleigh Colson — which potentially leaves five starting spots open. The Gold and White Scrimmage may be the final few opportunity to nail down a spot in the starting six prior to next week’s season-opener, which takes place at O’Keefe in the Georgia Tech Invitational.
There has been no shortage of applicants for those five spots, with class not being an issue.
“We’ve had a couple of upperclassmen step up but we’ve also had some freshmen step up to the plate,” Johnson said. “That’s been the fun part of the gym, just watching them get after it and knowing that they are competing for starting roles and that they’re trying to come in with a high level of play every day to win that spot. From a middle [blocker] standpoint, Chanell [Clark-Bibbs] and Quinn [Evans] have both had solid preseasons.
“The Libero spot and the pins have been pretty competitive as well,” she continued. “It’s been fun to see them get after it and push each other and see who comes out on top. We’ll be playing around with some lineups this week and trying to settle down with a lineup and something that we can be comfortable with by next weekend.”
Among the key battles will be for Libero/Defensive specialist, where junior Zoey Morton, sophomore Wimberly Wilson and freshman London Ackermann are battling it out. Among those in the running for outside hitter are seniors Jennifer Percy and Ivona Kolak, junior Courtney Felinski and freshman Teegan Van Gunst. Teegan’s twin sister Annika, fellow freshman Lauren Pitz and redshirt sophomore Ashtaan Horton have put themselves in the running, for time at middle blocker with sophomore Clark-Bibbs and senior Evans. Sophomore Callie Bivings and freshman Rebecca Martin are eager to show what they can do at setter.
It’s a competitive group that has already become cohesive one and one that Johnson thinks people will be excited to see.
“I think we have some unique personalities on this team,” she said. “This is a team that has responded and jelled with each other pretty fast. Our upperclassmen have welcomed our freshmen in with open arms and so it’s been fun to watch them jell together. It’s fun to see the respect that they have for each other, and that you know that regardless of whether they’re on the court or off the court they’re going to take care of each other.”
Of course, all that jelling and respect are off once they take the floor Saturday. Johnson doesn’t expect and won’t accept any kind of dialing back of the intensity.
“Absolutely not! Absolutely not,” Johnson said. “I want us to compete and get after each other. Never scale that back at all. That doesn’t happen in our practice gym so we won’t allow it to happen on Saturday. Let’s go and get after it. Any time we get an opportunity to play the game that we love we have to go get after it and give it our all.”
“We’ll see them get pretty competitive and maybe we’ll see THEM get after each other on the sideline,” she said, with a laugh. “We’re a pretty competitive staff. We play racquetball and we compete against each other in a lot of things. It gets pretty competitive sometimes.”
Both sides can expect to feed off the energy of the usual fervent crowd during the scrimmage, which will be followed by an autograph session with the team.
“I have yet to be disappointed in the crowds for the Gold and White Scrimmage,” Johnson said. “We look forward to seeing all of our fans and all of our followers and giving them a little bit of a taste of what we’re about.”
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