Aug. 13, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
There’s nothing wrong with a little preseason competition.
In fact, for most coaches, the more players going mano-a-mano for starting jobs, the better. The feeling is let the players play. The coach will sort it out.
But sometimes, there can be two winners for one spot. Take the setter position for Georgia Tech Volleyball.
Heading into the 2015-16 season, Coach Michelle Collier has a 1-2 setting punch of junior Rebecca Martin, who has led the Yellow Jackets in assists each of the last two seasons, and sophomore transfer Gabby Benda, who started as a freshman last season for Marquette.
Is there a logjam? Maybe. A “quarterback controversy”? Hardly. Collier couldn’t be happier.
“There are different ways of leading on the court. They have different strengths and weaknesses but they compliment each other well and they push each other to get better at their weaknesses,” said Collier, who begins her second season on the Flats. “It’s great to have that. They both have become better players because of that. So I think it’s a fun situation for them to be in and as a coach.
“Becca has done a great job, she knows the conference, she’s comfortable around all our players but Gabby has not wasted any time since she got here. She’s been working hard and she’s also very capable of running our offense,” Collier continued. “So it will be a tough decision for me to make but I think that it’s also an easy one because we can’t really go wrong. I think those two players are very talented and I think we’re a better team by having both of them here.”
Martin Is the incumbent, having broken the 1,000-assist mark last season (1,044, sixth in the ACC) in 31 matches (27 starts), more than doubling her freshman total (a team-high 410), while her 9.0 assists per match ranked seventh in the conference. She recorded five double-doubles and blasted a team-high 21 aces. The junior believes and that her work over the summer, when the team informally got together five days a week, has helped establish better communication, especially with outside hitters Teegan and Annika Van Gunst, both classmates, and sophomores Ashley Askin and Gabriela Stavnechei. She believes that they’ll be on the same page come this season.
“We’ve definitely gotten a lot of experience together under our belts,” said Martin. “We all came in the same time, the twins and I, and we’re really starting to get a feel for exactly what we’re looking for. I know exactly where to put the ball for Teegan, I know exactly where to put the ball for Annika, and Ashley, that’s still building and is getting a lot better. The overall consistency with all the hitters is improving, especially now, getting all these reps in.”
Benda is new around the Flats, but is quite familiar with the ACC. She grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and both of her parents are NC State alumni. Ironically, she chose Marquette because of then-Golden Eagles’ head coach Bond Shymansky (now head coach at Iowa), who led Georgia Tech to a pair of ACC regular-season titles and one Tournament title and three NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the Elite Eight (2003) and Sweet 16 (2004). Benda is glad to be back home and excited to make an impact with the Jackets.
“The ACC is a conference that I’ve always wanted to play in since I was a little girl, wanting to play college volleyball. So being in the ACC will definitely be cool,” said Benda, who put up 864 assists (7.78 per match), in 31 matches (23 starts) with Marquette. “Traveling home to play NC State and Duke and UNC in Chapel Hill and Wake Forest, just to be back in the area and be in a familiar place will be awesome.”
Collier sees contrasting styles in her two setters but believes sees good things in that variety.
“I think Becca is a little more physical at the net. She’s a better blocker. She’s played in this environment longer but Gabby also is a fierce competitor, she understands the game,” said Collier. “I think they’re different personalities on the court. Becca is a little more serious, Gabby is a little more hyper, brings a little bit more of the celebration and, kind of the energy. Becca is a little more focused but also understands what she needs to do. I think being able to have that balance is going to be important for us.”
The hitters expect to benefit from this battle of the setters.
“Continuing to work with Becca through last season has helped through the spring and summer and Gabby has stepped right in and we’ve had good chemistry so far,” said Teegan Van Gunst, the team’s leading hitter. “It’s a good battle between both of them and it’s fun.”
“The chemistry with Becca is great and the chemistry with Gabby is really good, too, because we got to work with each other over the summer,” said Askin, who also is Benda’s roommate. “She’s got a very good tempo and very good, positive leadership skills. I like her voice on the court and the way she works and moves. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by her. She’s a good player.”
As the team prepares for Aug. 22nd’s Gold/White Scrimmage at what is expected to be the usual rockin’ O’Keefe Gym (action begins at 3:00 p.m.), Martin and Benda are preparing, and bettering, each other. That’s expected to continue up until and, actually, long after the 22nd.
“We have done a good job of pushing each other,” said Martin. “She’s pushing me with consistency and I’m pushing her, too. It’s a very fun dynamic. Very competitive and it’s really nice.”
“Becca’s awesome. I would say that Becca is probably the most competitive setter that I have had to compete with ever in volleyball, so we’re both really good at pushing each other,” said Benda. “We’re going to make each other better and that will affect the rest of the team and get us where we need to be this year. It’s great.”
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