#TGW: Pounding Sand

March 31, 2015

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– Change isn’t always a bad thing.

Sometimes the more drastic the change the better.

Georgia Tech volleyball head coach Michelle Collier decided going into the spring that the best way to change her team’s habits on the volleyball court was by changing the way and the surface upon which they practiced.

So Collier and her staff took the Yellow Jackets off the floor and took them to the beach, where they worked on their techniques by playing beach volleyball.

“We wanted to expose them to that, really just get them out of the gym, something different,” said Collier, who grew up playing on the beaches of her native Brazil. “They had fun with it. It was challenging. it’s something that they had to kind of mentally prepare for and say, `Hey, this is something I’m learning. Let’s be positive about this and have a good approach to it.’ And the girls did. They worked hard.

“It’s a really fun game but at the same time it’s a very different game,” she added. “It exposes a lot of your weaknesses because you really have to be a well-rounded player and you have to be able to move on points quicker.”

Just trying to move on the softer and less stable surface proved difficult at first.

“It’s definitely a lot harder to move in the sand, especially being a hitter,” said sophomore outside hitter Teegan Van Gunst, who had played some casual beach volleyball over the course of a couple of summers. “Indoors I’m used to jumping a little higher but get in the sand and you’re not going anywhere, hardly. So just timing-wise and moving in the sand, jumping in the sand was a big adjustment that you have to make.”

Once they got their legs under them, they had to get used to playing without a third to two thirds of the usual manpower on the court and the responsibilities that entailed.

“You play doubles, so it’s a lot more ownership of the court,” said sophomore libero London Ackermann. “You’re working with one other person and there’s a lot of responsibility, which some people aren’t used to playing six-on-six. Overall, I think people have had to learn to communicate and talk and just go for balls they usually wouldn’t go for.”

In the couple of weeks in Florida, during which they played two to three days on the beach as well as mixing in some indoor training, Teegan, who teamed with her twin sister Annika, noticed not only more open lines of communication but also greater court awareness and aggressiveness.

“Just going after the ball, being more aggressive on defense and with our movements,” she said. “Whereas, sometimes when there are six people on the court, we’re like, `Oh, someone else will get the ball. It’s not my ball to get,’ in the sand, that IS your ball to get.”

Collier, who said she’ll continue the sand training, albeit in smaller doses (perhaps one day a week), says she noticed improvement on the hardwood, last weekend in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the Jackets played Georgia State, Kennesaw State and Ole Miss. She looks forward to continued progress on Saturday, when Tech hosts a six-team tournament at O’Keefe Gym. The Jackets will play Chattanooga at 9:30 a.m., Georgia Southern at 12:30 p.m., and Tennessee at 1:45 p.m. They’ll conclude the night playing Auburn at 5 p.m. at the Georgia World Congress Center (Jacksonville State also will participate but is the only team Georgia Tech does not play.).

“You can really see the difference in our movement, in our communication and just how well we’re handling the ball,” said Collier. “Everybody’s feeling way more comfortable just playing the game and that was kind of our intent. It was to get them out there, expose them to something that is different, challenge them in every aspect, physically and mentally, every unit and they really responded well to what we did.

“That’s how this experience should be. It’s challenging yet it should be something that you look forward to every day,” she added. “The type of environment that we’re creating, we want the kids to look forward to practice, look forward to getting better and being challenged. At the same time just playing the sport we all love and having fun with it.”

The players plan to continue playing beach volleyball during the summer.

“We’re talking about over the summer, once a week we’re going to have a sand tournament,” said Van Gunst. “Pretty much everyone on our team loved it. It was a great experience.”

“Over the summer we’ll definitely have little tournaments and things that we do as a team to play,” agreed Ackermann. “Doing this has helped us become well-rounded volleyball players and I think that experience is really good. Being able to work together, that is the biggest thing.”

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