March 15, 2011
By Jon Cooper
The Georgia Tech Volleyball Team has plenty to think about its 2010 season, which saw them finish 18-14 and out of the NCAA Tournament.
It made them mad enough to want to hit something at somebody.
Having done that for the last couple of weeks, they’re now ready to hit something at somebody else and will get their chance tonight, when they host Clemson in the first of six spring matches. The match begins at 5:00.
“We’ve been doing some really good things. Training’s going well,” said Head Coach Tonya Johnson. “We’ve got some people that are having to take on more ball control responsibilities and so the training in regard to the ball control has gotten a lot better. I think, offensively we’ve gotten better.”
While the ball-control aspect of the game will be different following the graduation of starting setter Mary Ashley Tippins and libero Jordan McCullers, the focal point of the offense will be very much the same, spearheaded by outside hitters and co-captains Bailey Hunter (Sr.) and Monique Mead (Jr.).
Hunter and Mead actually should be better, having had the luxury of hitting against and learning from some of the top players in the United States, as they traveled to Colorado Springs in late February for U.S. National Team Open Tryouts. They were two of 57 outside hitters invited to the tryouts. Overall 208 players attended.
It was the second straight year Mead was picked, and the first for Hunter. Both came away better for it.
“It went well this time,” said Mead, who led the ACC with 515 kills (4.29 per game) and points (5.03 per game) and was one of 24 players selected for the U.S. Women’s National A2 Program last year. “I think it was a little bit better because I knew what to expect, knew more girls that were there and I felt a lot more comfortable.”
“Three of my four sessions [Bailey] was there with me,” she added. “So it was nice having her with me and going through everything with me and being able to share that experience with her was great.”
“Going up there I was a little bit nervous because you know that once you leave your realm of comfort, mine being the South and the ACC, that you’re going to get out be with some quality competition, some of the best girls in the nation,” said Hunter, who ranked second on Tech in kills (366, 3.05 per game), and tied for eighth in the ACC with 120 service aces (with Mead). “But I got in a routine and told myself I’m doing something that I’m extremely passionate about, playing volleyball, and I know that I can do that, I actually did infinitely better than I had anticipated, which was extremely exciting.”
The opportunity to go West gave them an opportunity to improve on key facets of their games.
“My biggest thing would probably have been just reducing my errors hitting, being able to be a consistent hitter, not hitting the ball out of bounds or in the block, being able to make different shots,” said Mead.
“I’ve always kind of struggled as my passing goes,” said Hunter. “However when I was out in Colorado, the one thing that set me above the rest bar none was my passing. I don’t know if it was a mentality thing, if it was the other competition elevating my game, whatever it was, it was crazy. When I addressed whatever it was that they were evaluating us on at the time, I put everything into it and just kind of told myself that I was a great passer or a great blocker. It ended up really benefiting me.”
Johnson believes that only good could have come from Mead’s and Bailey’s exposure to the best in the U.S., as far as becoming better players and leaders.
“I think it made them mature a little bit faster and I think they both understand how good players they are and how good they can be before it’s all said and done for them,” she said. “I thought it was a really good eye-opening experience for both of them and both came back with a ton of confidence knowing that they could play with some of the best players across the country.”
The co-captains plan on sharing that confidence to benefit their Yellow Jackets teammates.
“I definitely saw how all the girls [in Colorado Springs] had a lot of passion for the game and they were willing to do whatever and work as hard as they could to make it on this team,” said Mead. “Maybe that can roll over to our team, doing whatever it takes and just putting the team first and knowing we have a lot of potential on our team. It would help us so much, just knowing how good we are and how good we can be.”
“The whole time I was there I was pulling ideas and leadership skills and picking up on different tendencies that the best players in America have,” said Hunter. “I was so anxious and excited to get back to Tech and put forth those efforts towards my team and better my team. I just instantly felt this fire under me that I was so excited about this season. I was so anxious to come back and have that spark with my girls and my team.”
Their teammates have noticed the renewed spirit of their captains.
“They’ve really stepped up as captains in a really positive way,” said sophomore setter Kaleigh Colson, who was the primary setter in the spring. “Mo’s really reached out to the team. She used to be more of an inward player in down moments, but in times of struggle she really has expanded and reached out to other teammates on the court. Bailey’s become a great positive leader in the way she talks to players and other teammates.”
“They’ve shown their leadership through the way they play on the court,” said junior Susan Carlson, who is in a battle with fellow junior Nicki Meyer to fill the Libero role. “Bailey’s really stepped up this year both in a leadership way and in a physical way, too. Mo’s gotten a lot better at being consistent and being more of a mental leader. She’s always been one of our go-to players but she’s now a leader and so she’s stepped into the role really well.”
Following the match with Clemson, Tech will host the GT Invite, which will include Georgia Southern, Kennesaw State, and College of Charleston, then conclude the spring with matches at Middle Tennessee State, which has beaten the Jackets the last two seasons, and at Florida State, where Tech has won the last two years.