Nov. 14, 2010
By Jon Cooper
In a season of swings in momentum and consistency, one swing has remained consistent and precise for Georgia Tech Volleyball. It’s the swing of rightside hitter Monique Mead, who, in her sophomore year, continues to raise the level of her already world-class game.
Mead completed the weekend, which saw the Yellow Jackets split — losing 0-3 to Virginia Tech Friday night before sweeping Virginia Sunday afternoon — leading the ACC with 459 kills and 4.33 kills per set. The next nearest player in those categories is UVA junior middle hitter Simone Asque, who has 60 fewer kills and .34 fewer kills per set (she’s played in six fewer than Mead).
The head-to-head between Meed and Asque, expected to spice up Sunday afternoon’s match at O’Keefe Gymnasium, never materialized. The Jackets swept (25-16, 25-23, 25-23) and Mead outplayed Asque, nailing a match-high 13 kills, while hitting .250, with three service aces and eight digs (second only to senior Libero Jordan McCullers, who had a match-high-tying and team-high 12). Asque had nine kills, but hit only .061, with four digs.
Mead, who on Sept. 24 against Duke put away a career-high 30 kills, chalks up the difference in 2010 to experience.
“As a freshman you’re going to be really streaky, you’re going to be on, you’re going to be off,” she said. “Now that I have that year out of the way, I’ve learned a lot of new things from last spring and last fall that I carried over to this season. Being able to see my block better and really knowing different hitters’ tendencies helps me and makes things easier.
“Playing with the same people over time helps getting more comfortable with them,” she added. “Like [setter Mary Ashley Tippins], we’ve been able to click with each other more this year than last year because I know how she sets. Also, with Asia [Stawicka, who is second in the ACC in blocks], being with her a year, I’ve been more comfortable blocking with her, and Bailey [Hunter], it’s nice to have someone on the opposite pin, giving a lot to this team and doing her job.”
Johnson expected Mead’s offensive firepower but has been pleasantly surprised by the commitment on the defensive end of the floor.
“She’s digging more balls. Defensively she’s in a better posture to dig more balls,” she said. “She’s got a certain feel for the ball that she didn’t have last year. She’s developing into a pretty good defensive player. That’s huge in the development of her game if she’s going to be a six-rotation player for us.”
Mead is the only player other than McCullers and Tippins to lead the Jackets in digs for a match.
“I didn’t even know that,” she said with a sheepish laugh. “That’s awesome. Defensively, you can’t win anything without passing and without defense. So that means a lot. It’s a privilege to be able to play all the way around, the front row and the back row. When I got better defensively, this year it helped a lot, not just myself but the team, being able to know what balls to go for and where to be on defense. It just helps out the team.”
Putting the team first also has inspired Mead to step up vocally.
“After a loss, she’ll be the first person to speak up in the locker room,” said fellow sophomore Libero Nicki Meyer, Mead’s roommate and best friend. “She’ll talk to everyone. She is so much more vocal. Last year she never would have done something like that.”
One thing Mead has never done, is talk about herself, regardless of the numerous and growing number of accomplishments and accolades.
“It’s not going to help anyone to be cocky or overwhelming,” she said. “I want to better myself but I also want to better everybody else so that we can better this team and go farther as a team. No matter how much you accomplish individually, it doesn’t mean as much as if you accomplish it as a team. That’s what matters to me the most.”
Her humility impresses those around her.
“She’s so down to Earth. Having 30-something kills, a career-high, and I didn’t realize it until someone else told me,” said Meyer. “She’s so humble. She could easily be the most confident person in the world, but she’s just ‘Mo.’ It really says a lot about her.”
“She comes from a very, very solid family, a very humble family,” added Johnson. “They know the meaning of hard work and getting after it but most important, they understand and appreciate the smaller things in life. I think they’ve taught that to Mo and to never take a day for granted, to take each day as it comes and be happy and live with that.”
“She’s a fun-loving kid,” Johnson said. “She has a great competitive spirit and I’ve enjoyed watching her grow up, watching her figure out the game and learn about the game and becoming more of a student of the game. That’s been fun for me and our staff because off the court she’s a funny kid and she just loves to laugh. I’m not sure there has ever been a day where I haven’t seen the kid laugh. As coaches, we want to be around kids like that on a daily basis.”
Mead’s attitude is infectious, as is the energy she brings to every match.
“She just gets the whole gym going,” she said. “Every time she swings, the entire crowd yells with her. She just brings so much energy. It’s so cool because it gets so much momentum, especially for our team when we’re home.”
Playing with the U.S. Team, which she hopes to do again this summer, with Johnson’s blessing, was instrumental in Mead’s growth and, in turn, is bearing fruit for Georgia Tech.
“I think it helped me more so in knowing that I can compete with the best,” she said. “It opened my eyes to some of the best players in the nation. Seeing them play and being able to play with them helps me and builds confidence in knowing that, for me and for this team, we have so much to gain. We have so far to go and have so much potential.”
Mead will keep swinging to try and get the team to reach that potential.
That includes the potential to move up in the standings. The Jackets sit in third place in the ACC, but go head-to-head with second-place North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Sunday.