#STINGDAILY: Loud and Clear

by Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –

Kaleigh Colson is determined to have her say in how far Georgia Tech goes during the 2012 season.

That’s fine with Head Coach Tonya Johnson and the rest of the Yellow Jackets. They know that for the team to stay on the roll the team has been on in jumping out to a 5-1 start — the Jackets head to Gainesville, Fla., to play in the University of Florida Active Ankle Challenge Friday night and Saturday — they can’t have their setter settle for being a silent partner.

“The thing we’ve been talking about to Kaleigh since she took over the starting spot is trying to be more vocal and have a presence on the court,” said Head Coach Tonya Johnson. “I think she’s doing a really nice job with that.”

“Kaleigh has a lot more confidence. She runs the court very well, she knows her plays, she knows what hitters likes what set and where they’re most successful and she has a voice,” agreed senior outside hitter Bailey Hunter. “Last year she was very, very quiet. She didn’t have a voice and a lot of times when it came down to leadership, Mo wouldn’t be leading because she was trying so hard to get the kills and to win. We needed a voice and Kaleigh wasn’t that. But she’s really developed a voice for this team and she’s doing a nice job of always communicating to the passers and the hitters and expecting feedback on her sets, which is nice.”

The Austin, Texas, native’s lack of voice, especially early on last year, was understandable. It’s hard to establish a voice when you’re trying to establish yourself as a starter. Last year Colson was in a dogfight with freshman Ali Santi for starting setter and watched most of the season’s first four sets.

Undeterred Colson kept working and took advantage of her opportunity once she got the job. In her first start, Sept. 3 against Houston Baptist in the second game of the Rice Tournament, she helped the Yellow Jackets to a resounding 3-0 victory, recording a 29-assist, 13-dig double-double.

Once she got the starting job she never lost it.

Colson finished the season with 790 assists, a 9.88 assists-per-game average, with 198 digs (2.47 digs per game) and added 100 kills, with a .360 hitting  percentage, best on the team and eighth-best in school history. She even made history by recording only the fourth triple-double in program history — a 12-kills, 34-assists, 11-digs night at Miami on Oct. 16th.

It was a huge leap forward after a freshman year that saw action play in only three games, recording one assist and one dig, and something upon which to build for her junior campaign.

“Having another year under my belt, having court experience from last year, that really helped me grow,” she said. “I think I’ve grown a lot from last year, just confidence-wise and in the player that I am today. I feel like the trust relationships that I have with my teammates, my hitters and my passers, has grown significantly since last year, which all adds up to me being a confident player and being a setter that runs the court and runs the offense.”

Johnson also pointed to improved lines of communication as a key to Colson’s improvement.

“She’s the quarterback of the team. So a lot of the responsibility falls on her in regards to location, in regards to speed, in regards to height of the ball and putting that ball where it needs to be so her attackers can be successful,” said Johnson. “She’s taken that to heart and understands that whatever feedback she’s getting from her teammates, it’s not negative feedback. She’s going out and doing what she has to do to make sure that her attackers are successful.”

The team has obviously been successful and Colson has picked up in 2012 where she left off in 2011. After finishing last season recording at least 40 assists in six of her final 10 matches, she has had at least 40 assists three times and recording 36 in two others. In the Jackets finale last weekend in Indiana, she dished out 56 helpers, three short of her career-best. She’s also put up two double-doubles and missed by two digs in two other matches. Her 15 digs in the five-set thriller over SMU on Aug. 25th were two short of her career-best.

Digging and better defensive position was the focal point of her off-season training.

“I really wanted to improve my defense, staying in posture and being in the right spot,” Colson said. “So far I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that and I’d like to continue playing good defense.”

Everything is working so far in 2012, especially being in sync with her hitters.

“My connection with both pins, and Mo has grown,” she said. “We’re more consistent together with what ball I’m delivering to them, what they want from me and vice versa. We know to push each other and what we need from each other. I think it’s great.”

Her play has certainly satisfied Hunter.

“I told Kaleigh after preseason that she never gave the coaches an option to wonder who was going to be the setter,” Hunter said. “She worked so hard every single day to establish her role on this team and to basically solidify that she was going to be the starting setter no matter what. In turn, she really worked well with all the hitters. It’s kind of like a machine out there, it’s very consistent and always working well together.”

The machine plans to be clicking on all cylinders when the Yellow Jackets take on Louisiana at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, then battle the Jacksonville at 10 a.m. Saturday before concluding with a 7:30 p.m. match-up with No. 15 Florida.

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