April 2, 2011
By Jon Cooper
– The difference between a team and a program is the ability to continue winning following the graduation of key players.
The Yellow Jackets continue their spring workouts today looking to fill two key ball-control positions, having lost one of the best setters in school history in Mary Ashley Tippins and an emotional leader in fiery libero Jordan McCullers.
Colson and Carlson hope to play a big role in filling those areas and will take the next step in their progression, today, when Tech hosts the Georgia Tech Invitational. Other schools participating in the action-packed day of volleyball include Georgia Southern, Kennesaw State and College of Charleston. The action begins at O’Keefe at 9:00 a.m., when Tech tussles with Georgia Southern. The Yellow Jackets will play Kennesaw State at 12:45 p.m., then wrap up against College of Charleston at 2:00.
Head coach Tonya Johnson is pleased with the play of Colson and Carlson, who have taken the early lead in the races that will carry into the fall.
Colson has been the lone setter in spring practice, but isn’t taking that for granted. Instead she’s taking the initiative and using her head start to gain familiarity with her hitters, especially co-captains Monique Mead, who made the U.S. Women’s National A2 Team, and senior Bailey Hunter, who was impressive in trying out for the U.S. Team.
“I don’t think it’s really eased my mind. I still have to compete with myself and have to compete with the setters that are going to come in in future years,” said Colson, from Austin, Texas, who starred at Westwood High School, where she was a finalist in 2010 for the Andy Collins Award as National Setter of the Year. “This spring has really given me a lot of time to connect with all my hitters, Bailey and Mo especially. It took some getting used to, different setter, different hitters that connection but I think it’s really improved since the beginning of the Spring.”
Her play has pleased Johnson.
“Kaleigh has done a good job of taking the reins and running the show,” said Johnson. “She has done a really nice job. It’s kind of nice to be the only one. All the focus is on you, you’re getting all the reps and she’s certainly taken advantage of that. So it’s been good.”
Carlson doesn’t have the monopoly on the libero position that Colson has at setter, as she is in a battle with fellow sophomore Nicki Meyer, who has been hampered by injuries, but should be back in action this weekend. The competition has been a motivator for both players.
“[Carlson’s] done a great job playing left back. It’s kind of new to her. She’s used to playing center back. So she’s stepped into that role really well,” said Johnson. “She and Nicki have competed all spring, but it’s been kind of fun to watch both of those guys evolve and then wanting to earn that Libero spot and it’ll been fun to watch them battle it out this semester.”
“I think we both realized that no matter who is playing libero next year, the other one is going to be playing,” said the Pasadena, Calif., native, who was fourth on the team last season with 222 digs (1.93 per set) in 115 sets. “We’re really good friends, so it’s a fun competition. We push each other in a good, helpful way.”
Both Colson and Carlson are finding that a good, helpful way for them to succeed is by not trying to be someone they’re not.
“I’m not going to compare myself to [Tippins],” said Colson, who saw limited action last season. “We play very different setting styles. We’re different players. So I’ll do it my way. She set the path. She was a great leader on the floor. I’m going to have to step into the leadership role that she started.
“I’m left-handed so I can swing when I’m front row,” she added. “It’s a lot easier to swing when you’re left-handed and you’re a setter than when you’re right-handed, which Mash was. So I can attack more than she did. That’s just one of the differences.”
“She was a great leader and was very consistent in her position,” said Carlson of McCullers. “I want to take that from what she’s taught me, just to be consistent and to be dominant and be a good leader on top of being a good player.”