Oct. 13, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Kaleigh Colson has gotten real defensive about her play of late.
Last weekend, when Georgia Tech (10-7, 3-4) routed Maryland (3-1) then Boston College (3-0), the sophomore setter not only led the team in assists (a combined 63), but also in digs (23). It was part of an entire team effort.
“We came out extremely motivated,” she said. “We stayed pretty steady, stayed pretty focused the whole weekend and it showed in our result. It was a good weekend to build off of to keep moving forward, we just played a steady game, played our game.”
Colson and the entire volleyball team will try to play their game this weekend as they head into hostile territory starting tonight at No. 21 Florida State (13-4, 7-0), the ACC’s top-ranked team (the match starts at 7 p.m.) and Sunday afternoon at No. 23 Miami (14-2, 5-2, third in the ACC), beginning at 1 p.m. Fans can follow both matches via GameTracker on RamblinWreck.com.
Colson hopes to continue her inspired play that saw her dish out a career-high 41 assists against the Terps, then get a career-best 12 digs against the Eagles. While the former is very much part of her job description, the latter was a nice fringe benefit and something volleyball head coach Tonya Johnson couldn’t have been happier to see.
“One of the things that we’ve been talking to her about is she has to become a better defender,” said Johnson. “We played teams this past weekend that attacked the right side of the court. I thought that she did a nice job of being in good posture and making plays. That’s what we need. This past weekend, I thought we served well but I also thought we blocked well and we defended well. Defensively she did a nice job and it was nice to see her come out and have that kind of defensive effort.”
For Colson, it was a matter of staying focused.
“Defense has been where my focus is lately, one of my personal goals, being ready and being in posture,” said Colson. “I focused on that a lot this weekend. Team defense has greatly improved all the way around and our digging was great.”
Johnson can see a big difference Colson’s confidence in running the offense and in making an impact on the floor this season.
“The thing that she lacked last year and that you can totally see a change in her and a total effort in her to make a change is her presence,” said Johnson. “She has a presence on the court and she has worked really, really hard to make a difference out there and to have a presence out there.”
The 5-10 setter from Austin, Texas, feels her freshman season was beneficial, despite only seeing the floor in three games and two matches (she had one assist and one dig).
“I think confidence just comes with experience,” she said. “It’s a big transition to go from high school to college. Having a year under my belt, knowing what to expect from ACC a little bit better and just knowing college volleyball in general helps. It would help anybody.”
Colson had started only once prior to last weekend, as she sat behind freshman Ali Santi. But she kept herself ready and when she was called upon, had a monster weekend. In addition to the assists and digs, Colson nailed three service aces in each match, accounting for six of the team’s 18 on the weekend.
Johnson believes that Colson, who Johnson noted was injured during preseason, benefited from sitting and watching Santi.
“Taking a back seat and seeing it from the sideline, having a different view, I think helps you become a better student of the game,” said Johnson. “Taking a step back and seeing what Ali brought to the table, I thought was good. You never want a kid to get hurt, but it was good for her to be able to sit and just kind of see and watch and pick up on all of that stuff.”
Colson likes her relationship with Santi and how they push each other.
“Within each position you push your competition to make this team better because when you make your teammates better you make the team better,” she said. “The competition within our team brings out the best in everyone when we play on the court together.”
Johnson doesn’t expect the level of the competition to let up.
“They’ve both been pretty open-minded to the competition and they have a pretty good relationship,” she said. “At the end of the day they understand that it’s about the team, not so much about them and that they’re willing to go to work and work hard every day and whoever wins the battle wins the battle.
“As we’ve said all along, we’re going to go back and forth, back and forth all season long,” Johnson added. “[The setter’s job] is Kaleigh’s to hold down right now. We’ll see if she can keep her focus and continue to work hard and not let up.”
The Jackets can ill-afford to let up this weekend as they travel south to take on the Seminoles then the Hurricanes.
Florida has been good to the Yellow Jackets, as are 7-3 all-time at Tully Gymnasium in Tallahassee, 2-0 under Johnson, and 4-2 in Miami, 1-1 under Johnson, at the James L. Knight Sports Complex. The Florida State-Miami weekend has been kind to Tech, as they are 8-4 on Florida State-to-Miami weekends, with one sweep and two splits.
“I wish I could tell you what it is that’s worked because I ‘d like to try it every time we go on the road somewhere,” said Johnson, with a laugh. “But we’ve gone in there the last two years and played extremely well. I’m very interested to see what we do on Friday night at their place. It’s going to be a battle. But any time you play on the road it’s always a battle.”
One thing is for sure, however, the hostile crowd won’t intimidate Tech. If anything, the Jackets expect to benefit from the hostile crowds.
“They’re used to a loud, raucous crowd, who gets after it,” Johnson said. “I think having the type of energy and electric feeling that we have in our gym, when we go to other places and play in that environment, typically we’re used to that.”
“We’re going to have to create our own energy within our team but we are used to playing in big crowds in O’Keefe,” agreed Colson. “Having a big crowd can really give you a lift. It can work to our advantage even if they’re not cheering for us.”