#TGW: (Back) Home On The Range

Sept. 5, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Georgia Tech Volleyball middle blocker Ashtaan Horton and outside hitter Courtney Felinski, have their hearts firmly in their home state of Texas.

That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t mind breaking a few local hearts during this weekend’s SMU Tournament being played at Moody Coliseum in Dallas, which includes SMU, No. 24 Oklahoma and Texas Southern.

(The Jackets opened play Friday night against the host Mustangs (2-1), and have a Saturday doubleheader beginning at 11:00 a.m. against the Sooners (2-1), then wrap up against the Lady Tigers (1-2) at 5:30 p.m. The Jackets are 2-0 all-time vs. SMU. They’ve never played Oklahoma or Texas Southern.)

In fact, both Horton and Felinski would like nothing better than to put on a good show in front of their former would-be suitors, as both were recruited by all three opponents this weekend.

“I thought about going to Oklahoma for a while,” said Horton, a redshirt senior, who grew up in Cedar Hill, only about 30 minutes away from the SMU campus. “I decided I wanted to venture out and get a little bit further from home so Georgia Tech was the place for me.”

“I was recruited very heavily by SMU and I know some girls on that team,” said Felinski, a senior, who grew up in Magnolia, Texas, about 200 miles south of Dallas. “It was fun beating them my sophomore year and I hope I can be 2-0 against them after [Friday].”

The Jackets beat SMU in a 3-2 thriller to conclude the 2012 Georgia Tech Courtyard Invitational (Felinski had six kills and a block, Horton did not play), and this weekend is the second trip to Texas in the careers of Horton and Felinski, as the Jackets traveled to Houston to play in the Rice Tournament in 2011.

As they did in 2011, the Jackets expect a nice crowd, including plenty of family and friends.

“My freshman year we got to go to Houston, which was exciting for both of us. That’s my hometown. So it’s cool that now we’re going to Ashtaan’s hometown of Dallas,” said Felinski, who had a strong opening weekend (25 kills, including 12 against South Carolina, and a .396 hitting percentage).

“My mom’s side of the family is actually from the Fort Worth area so they’re all coming. Then, some of my dad’s side is coming up from Houston. I’ve got aunts and uncles and cousins from both sides, then I have friends who go to school in Dallas that are coming and my high school coach. It’s really exciting to have all of our friends and family there to cheer us on. Hopefully Ashtaan can show off in Texas for them.”

Horton will be extra-jazzed for this weekend. She redshirted in 2011 and didn’t play against SMU in ‘12. She returns home as a starter and major contributor (27 kills, second on the team, including a team-high 11 in last weekend’s season-opener against Jacksonville, a .415 hitting percentage and team-high 15 blocks). Of course, she’ll be well-represented, yet much of her family has yet to see her play collegiately.

“I should have a good amount of people there. I have my mom, my dad, my sister and her fiancé, and my older brother and two of my aunts coming and I have a lot of cousins,” she said, with a laugh.

“A lot of my friends and family have never been able to make it out to Georgia to see me play so a lot of them haven’t seen me play in about four years, since I was in high school. So it’s really awesome getting to go back and see them and play in front of them and have them there to cheer us on this weekend. I’m super-excited. We play some really good teams, too. So I’m looking forward to it.”

The Jackets also are looking forward to playing in front of a pair of former teammates and Texas natives, setter Kaleigh Colson and middle blocker Quinn Evans, who graduated last year.

“We miss them so much and we’ll be happy to see them,” said Felinski. “They said they can’t wait to see us play. It’ll be fun. It’ll be a new experience for them, being spectators for the first time in a while. We’re excited.”

The Jackets are excited to build upon last weekend, when they went 2-1 (sweeping Jacksonville and Gardner-Webb, before dropping a hard-fought four-setter to host South Carolina) in their debut for Coach Michelle Collier.

“We played really well together and we had a balanced offense,” Horton said. “The setters Callie [Bivings] and Becca [Martin] did a really good job of distributing the ball to make sure that the other side didn’t really know who was going to get the ball. Our passing was so good. I think we did a great job as a team.”

“I think [Collier’s system] was very effective and I’m really excited to keep playing the way we’re playing,” said Felinski. “Something that’s really good that she emphasized is that when things are going poorly and we’re not being successful, just simplify our game and hit some balls and not try to be perfect. I think that helped us get on track against South Carolina in Set Three (which Tech won, 25-18). It kept us successful against the other two teams. The fact that she’s willing to play everybody in different positions and use our depth and our strengths, that’s a good thing, too, that will make us better. I’m excited to see how we use that confidence this weekend.”

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