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Sept. 8, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

There’s no place like home.

At last weekend’s Rice Tournament, held in Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston, Texas, the Georgia Tech Volleyball Team found itself at times trying to “manufacture” noise to get pumped up.

They won’t have to worry about that Friday night.

O’Keefe Gym is sold out for the Jackets’ match against the University of Georgia. The 2011 renewal of this rivalry begins at 7:00 p.m. and is the main event of the first night of the Georgia Tech Regency Suites Invitational. Samford and Mercer open the round-robin at 4:00.

It may early in the season, but it’s never too early to get excited over Georgia Tech- Georgia.

“I’m really excited,” said junior middle blocker Alexis Woodson, who is playing in her second career match against UGA but her first in front of the home crowd. “As soon as our coaches told us that our whole gym was sold out, we were like, ‘Wow!’

“I remember going to a Georgia match two years ago, before I came here,” she added. “I remember O’Keefe was so packed. It was just crazy. The energy was amazing. Now I’m going to be a part of it here at O’Keefe.”

Woodson is one of 10 players on the Yellow Jackets’ 16-player roster who is playing in her first home match against Georgia.

True freshman libero Zoey Morton is another.

She is experiencing the rivalry the first time anywhere, but, like Woodson, knows all about the rivalry, being an Atlanta native. The match has been on her radar for a while now.

“The second I knew the schedule I found the Georgia Tech-Georgia match and told everyone I know, ‘You have to come to this match,’ said Morton, who, like Alexis and Mariah Woodson, attended Woodward Academy. “I’ve been looking forward to it. It should be an exciting match.”

The Bulldogs hold the all-time edge in the series (21-12), but the Yellow Jackets have dominated the proceedings of late, winning 12 of the last 13 matches and five in a row. Of those last five, three went the full five-setters, including both since Tonya Johnson took over as head coach.

In last season’s five setter at the Ramsey Center in Athens, the Jackets dropped two of the first three sets, including 30-28 in the third set before winning the fourth set, 25-22 and the deciding set, 15-13. Monique Mead was electrifying, going off for a then-career-high 26 kills.

Woodson isn’t concerned about the past and refuses to put any added pressure on herself over the streak.

“We can’t go in with that mindset that if we lose we’ll lose the streak,” she said. “We’ve got to go out, play our hardest, impose what we want to do and worry about ourselves, what we need to do to win the match.”

Morton noted that the team got some perspective on the rivalry on Tuesday, when they received a post-practice talk from Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Famers, former teammates on the Tech Tennis Team and the school’s current Men’s and Women’s Tennis Team Head Coaches Kenny Thorne and Bryan Shelton.

“It was pretty cool,” she said. “It really showed us how long the rivalry has been going on and how involved everyone on the campus is. Every single sport is so involved in the rivalry. It’s really cool to see that. It was really inspiring and really pumped us up.”

The Jackets are expecting a similar effect from the O’Keefe Gym crowd Friday.

“We feed off it a lot,” said Woodson. “Our fans are so wonderful. It’s amazing that when we get a kill or a block, they’re just so in tuned to it. The type of energy that the crowd gives to us, it just pumps us up so much.”


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