Aug. 29, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Expecting and driving one’s self in pursuit of perfection is admirable.
Knowing when to let up on the gas in that pursuit is an important fail-safe that prevents from pushing too hard and, potentially, driving one crazy.
The former has never been a problem for Mary Ashley Tippins. Discovering the latter may make a difference for her and, in turn, the Georgia Tech volleyball team.
“That’s always been my problem, getting down on myself,” said Tippins, who last season, her first as starting setter, saw her play in all 31 matches and lead the ACC in assists (11.27 per set, 20th in the nation). “I want to be perfect at everything in the game of volleyball and I know I’m not. I’m really hard on myself. I’m a perfectionist. So I’m just working on my mental aspect of the game, to not worry about if I make a mistake. Just move on to the next thing. The next play will be better.”
Ironically, trying to be too perfect and head coach Tonya Johnson’s knowing when to hit the gas turned the course of the Yellow Jackets’ weekend in the Marriott Courtyard Classic at O’Keefe Gymnasium.
On Friday night, the Jackets were so juiced up and eager to prove a point, that they flooded the engine and sputtered coming out against Indiana. They promptly dropped the first two games, by identical 25-20 scores.
“We were all kind of timid with our shots, we missed a lot of serves. I definitely think there were jitters,” she said. “The gym was packed and we wanted to put on a good show. We want to win. So I think we were thinking a lot those first two games.”
It was then that Johnson got the team’s attention and put it in gear.
“Tonya really made us think about how we were playing in between games two and three. She really gave it to us,” Tippins said, with a laugh. “I don’t think any of us want to see her mad like that again. That’s why we came out more pumped up. We wanted to prove ourselves.”
The Jackets proved plenty, going 8-1 the rest of the weekend. Tech evened the match with the Hoosiers (25-22, 25-20), then, despite dropping a tight decisive fifth game (18-16 in a game that saw five ties and three lead changes) Tippins and Co. blew through Alabama A&M and Alabama-Birmingham.
The Jackets, who hit only .108 against IU, became Alabama slammers, with kill percentages of .404 and .341 against the Bulldogs and Blazers.
So dominant was Tech on Saturday that in the day’s six matches, there was a total of two ties and one lead change, all coming early in the third game against A&M — Tech evened the match at 1-1 and 2-2, then took a 3-2 lead they would never relinquish.
Tippins, who joined fellow senior Jordan McCullers, the Most Valuable Libero of the Tournament, and sophomore Monique Mead on the All-Tournament Team, sparked the offense. She chalked up 106 assists in three games (9.64 per set) and spread the wealth, as 10 different Jackets record at least one kill (they out-hit their opponents 143-94), with five players having at least 15. As expected, Mead led the way with 43, with junior outside hitter Bailey Hunter and junior middle blocker Asia Stawicka chipping in 29 and 25.
Interestingly, the other two double-figure-killers were sophomores, outside hitter Susan Carlson, who had 19 (eight more than she had all last season), and middle blocker Alexis Woodson, who had 15 in her first action with Georgia Tech debut.
“Tonya keeps saying that we have depth this year, finally,” said Tippins. “We have like four or five outside hitters to choose from and they can switch from the left side and the right side to hit. We’re also working with four middles now. We’ve been working really hard at trying to get them more involved in the offense.
“I feel comfortable right now,” she continued. “We have a very balanced offense and I feel like I have a lot of options to set. That’s a good thing.”
Tippins also personifies the confidence of a team that won’t be satisfied with simply getting to the NCAAs and is determined to step up and lead the team.
“I want to be the leader that I know I can be,” she said. “I know my confidence level my first two years here was kind of shaky but I’ve embraced my new role, being a leader on the team, the starting setter. I want to lead this team further into the NCAA Tournament and I want to leave a legacy here for this program.”
Maybe then Tippins will believe she was good enough.