TGW: Back to Business

Aug. 9, 2017

The Good Word | Matt Winkeljohn

Michelle Collier and Georgia Tech volleyball are back to work, not that they ever really stopped, yet the beginning of two-a-day practices on Tuesday means the Yellow Jackets are officially on the clock.

While players have been busy all summer working out with strength and conditioning coach Scott McDonald four to five days a week and practicing in small groups as Collier was recruiting, she and her staff have more than the usual work cut out for them.

Half of Tech’s roster is comprised of newcomers, and with seven freshmen and transfer student Coral Kazaroff new to the mix there is plenty of sorting ahead.

“We’re just kind of getting a feel for the group, and we want to get their bodies back in the gym, focus on the fundamentals,” Collier said after the morning practice. “It was about two-and-a-half hours, although we were alternating so some groups were doing weights.”

Collier’s fourth season on The Flats is coming quickly. Tech will host the Hyatt Regency Invitational in O’Keefe Gymnasium Aug. 25-27.

Even with so many new faces, the Jackets feel good about themselves.

Coming off a 24-8 season where they were 15-5 in the ACC and 11-2 at home, Tech’s .750 winning percentage was the best in the program since 2004. Although the team has been picked to finish ninth in the conference, there are reasons to be excited.

On Monday, the team added assistant coach Claudio Pinheiro to the staff, and that can only help. Pinheiro, who coached the Brazilian Women’s Olympic team to gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Games, was a part-time consultant last season.

“First of all, I am very happy to be here,” Pinheiro said. “I’ve worked in high-level volleyball for many years and when I was here as a consultant, I was able to see what you can do with the structure of a university environment.

“All the support and structure that is at Georgia Tech, any team in the world would be lucky to have it.”

Last week, senior outside hitter Gabriela Stavnetchei, of Curitiba, Brazil, was named preseason All-ACC. She played in all 32 matches with 30 starts last season, registering double-digit kills in 17 matches, including the last seven. The senior posted eight double-doubles.

While senior middle blocker Sydney Wilson is the only other starter back, senior outside hitter Ashley Askin and senior setter Gabby Benda lend experience.

Tech’s seniors, in fact, have been putting younger players through paces most of the summer as six of the seven freshman arrived on campus a couple months ago. Outside hitter Alessia Del Romano arrived from Bologna, Italy, last weekend.

“Our upperclassmen and returners did a great job this summer getting our newcomers acclimated,” Collier said. “Alessia just arrived Saturday, but everybody else has been here since June. They did a good job getting them to understand what’s expected.

“Everybody is very motivated, very fresh. We’re definitely taking advantage of that and explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing. It was a great first practice.”

Among newcomers, Kazaroff has the most experience as the 5-foot-3 junior defensive specialist from Apex, N.C. She played in 31 of 32 matches last season for the University of Virginia.

Here’s Collier’s dime store scouting report on the seven freshmen:

Dominique Washington is an outside hitter from Chicago, a very physical kid, very dynamic. She’s not terribly tall (5-10), but jumps very high.

“One of the biggest strengths about [6-1 middle blocker] Kendall Wilson is ball control, the ability to control shots . . . she will help us in that aspect. She’s going to have to catch up quickly to the speed of the game.

Sam Knapp is a [5-6] libero who comes from a strong volleyball background. She had a great high school coach, and a really good culture growing up playing at a very high level.

“Nicole Alford is a [6-1] setter, has a lot of natural leadership abilities. We’re counting on her to come in and compete with Gabby Benda, our other setter. This is a kid that really wants to play, a hard worker, and a person who’s going to be a leader.

“Alessia, [a 6-foot outside hitter] . . . coming from international, bringing that to the table, really helps. Italy is one of the best countries when it comes to developing volleyball players. She has played in a really competitive environment while not being afraid . . .

Cori Clifton is a very physical [6-1] kid who jumps easily on the right side. She has set a little bit. I think she understands a lot about the game. Cori is very athletic.

“She and Grace Rigsbee [right side] both add a lot of physicality. They’re both lefties, Cori and Grace, and that adds a different dimension from what we’ve had. That diversifies our offense. Grace is a big kid, 6-3, already making an impact.”

Even before their first match, the Jackets are excited about the new Taraflex floor in O’Keefe.

“It’s the best floor in the world,” Collier reported. “They use it for the Olympics and every major competition. It’s about injury prevention and shock absorption.”

Tech will be on that floor quite a bit, as two practices are planned nearly every day through Aug. 20, the day before fall semester classes begin. Collier will surely work in a break or two before the Jackets open the season Friday, Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. in O’Keefe against Auburn.

They’ll play Furman at 1 p.m. and Michigan State at 8 p.m. on the 26th, and North Dakota at 4 p.m. on the 27th — all at O’Keefe.

With all the newcomers, it will be nice play at home before the Jackets travel to San Diego to play Sept. 1-2 at the University of San Diego, although that’s not a bad place to visit.

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