Aug. 26, 2011
By Jon Cooper
It’s difficult to believe that Monique Mead is starting her junior year.
It seems like only yesterday that she was learning the ropes of collegiate volleyball as a freshman.
But here she is, one of the elite players in the world.
“She’s grown up, huh?” said volleyball head coach Tonya Johnson, who took over at Tech the same year Mead came in. “She’s somebody that I’ve seen make improvements every year. I expect that Mo will improve at her game from the offensive aspect in regards to being able to hit more shots and make better decisions and be able to keep the ball in play a little bit better.”
Mead improved as a sophomore, following up her dynamic debut season by leading the ACC and ranking 18th in the nation with 4.31 kills per set (515 overall — 159 more than she had as a freshman and 149 more than nearest teammate Bailey Hunter). She was the only player in the ACC with at least 4.0 kills and 5.07 points per set and tied for the team lead with 33 service aces. Mead was solid defensively, with 1.96 digs, and 102 total blocks (third on the team).
“I think that stuff happens when you mature,” Johnson said. “She’s starting to understand the contact point of the sides of the ball in regards to what shot she wants to hit and what the block’s giving her. In this game, as the kids mature they mature as players as well with their skill level.”
Johnson isn’t the only ACC coach expecting big things out of the talented 20-year-old from Newnan, Ga. The other coaches in the conference voted Mead to the Preseason All-ACC Team (she joined senior co-captain Hunter).
Mead is no stranger to individual achievements, as she has two All-ACC selections and the ACC Freshman of the Year award under her belt, but this year she wants to raise the ante. Her top priority is getting the Jackets to the top of the conference and back into the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve always said that team goals are better than personal ones,” she said. “Personally I want to play well but when you have team championships, and you win the ACC with your team it means so much more. You get people to share it with.”
The 2011 season opened Friday night against Kansas State in the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic and continues Saturday with a double-header, starting at 12:30 p.m. against Tennessee Tech then against Louisville at 7. Tech hopes that matches against national powers early in the season will bear fruit as the team comes together and improves on last year’s season in which they came up short of getting to the NCAA Tournament.
Mead believes this year’s team has a higher ceiling than last year’s squad and is fueled by the bitter taste left from the way last season ended.
“We’re going to know how that feels and we don’t ever want to feel that way again not to have our name on the selection show,” she said. “I think that we’re going to use that as motivation to be better this year and work harder to win.”
While Mead would be happy to get back to the NCAAs she doesn’t want the team to settle for “happy to be there.”
“My freshman year we made it, but then we lost right away,” she said, referring to Tech’s 3-0 loss to Baylor. “It’s great to have made it but I want to get somewhere in it. That’s definitely a big goal of mine.”
Team improvement goes hand-in-hand with raising the level of her game.
“I just want to keep improving from season to season,” she said. “I got a lot better from my freshman season to my sophomore season. My junior year I want to be able to have a higher hitting percentage, get my digs up and, defensively, I definitely want to get better.”
Mead feels she is on the way to doing so after having worked out with the U.S. National Team for the second straight summer. She also feels comfortable passing on what she learned to her teammates.
“When I go and play with the USA Team, I see these girls that are phenomenal. They’ve gone to national championships and won national championships,” she said. “It’s motivation for me. It helps me motivate my teammates because I know what we’re capable of. I see people at that top level and come back here and see so much potential to be at that level. I learned a lot from the other players and from different coaches. Being able to bring that here definitely helps a lot, and I think it’s something that everybody here can respect and take a lot from.”
Johnson is excited to watch Mead work with Hunter as leaders on the team.
“I think she’s done a great job of maturing through this process,” she said. “She has taken on a leadership role. She has done a tremendous job with it. She and Bailey kind of feed off of each other. I think the team respects them. It makes it a lot easier to go about doing their job on a daily basis and that’s leading this team and leading by example.”