Dec. 4, 2013
By Jon Cooper
The finality of that senior season can hit student-athletes hard.
As Georgia Tech volleyball headed home following its season-ending loss at Florida State, its quartet of talented seniors, setter Kaleigh Colson, middle blocker Quinn Evans, and outside hitters Ivona Kolak and Jennifer Percy began to come to grips with the fact that they would no longer have the opportunity to don the White and Gold.
“I can’t believe that it’s over,” said Percy. “It definitely went by a lot quicker than I thought it would and it makes you, not regret anything, but wish you would have cherished the moments more, the freshman and the sophomore years.”
Helping soften the blow are two words that the foursome has come to love and will always cherish, ‘Point, Tech!’ — those words, and their source, the fans that filled the stands at O’Keefe Gymnasium, providing encouragement, often at ear-splitting levels.
All four seniors basically had two words of their own to offer the Tech fan base.
“’Thank you,’” said Colson. “O’Keefe is one of the best crowds to play in front of in the entire nation and I attribute a lot of success that we’ve had on the court to them supporting us and bringing that energy that we needed for our matches.”
“Just ‘Thank You’ for the support, always being there for us and believing in us no matter what,” agreed Percy. “All the support they have given us the past four years, it really makes you want to go out and play for them and the program. We really appreciate it more than they think they know.”
The senior class finished with an overall 64-62 record, but was 36-25 at O’Keefe. They gave the faithful one final show during Seniors Weekend. On Nov. 22, Senior Night, the Jackets swept Boston College, led by Colson’s double-double (26 assists, 12 digs) with six service aces, a team-high-tying and match-high nine kills from Percy, Evans’ team-high and match-high-tying three blocks and Kolak’s seven kills.
“It was really fun to be out there again, all four of us, on the court getting to play together one last time at home at O’Keefe,” said Colson. “I will never forget playing in that gym. It was such a unique experience and our fans are some of the best fans out there. We’ve really appreciated their support over the years.”
Two days later, the Jackets concluded their 2013 home slate with a thrilling, come-from-behind five-set win over Syracuse. The final two sets ended 25-23 and 15-13.
“Senior Weekend is one of those things that I will never forget,” said Evans, who had 10 kills against the Orange, third behind Percy (20) and sophomore Chanell Clark-Bibbs (11). “The team all played so well and it was such a fun weekend of matches. We had the huge comeback with Syracuse and Boston College, it was the first time we 3-0’ed a team in quite some time. So it was a very emotional weekend, but a lot of good memories were made. There’s no better way to go out than with two wins like that.”
Kolak felt the weekend sweep was a nice gift to give to the fans.
“That entire weekend was really special for all of us because it was our playing for the last time in O’Keefe,” said Kolak. “Our fans are amazing. They always came and supported us. Just to play for the last time in front of the amazing crowd was one of the most fun things you could ever do. They surely help you. As I like to say, they pump you up to play 10 times better than you actually play. Our fans are really special.”
“I was so glad that we ended our match on Sunday against Syracuse the way that we did,” said Percy. “We pulled it out in five and just giving our fans that one last hurrah, all of us being there and playing and it was great having the support that they’ve always given us. It was really something that helped us rally and pull out that win. So it was great for all of us there.”
Adding to the memories was an opportunity, at least for Colson, Evans and Percy, to play in front of family, as all three had family members travelling in from out of state, many who had never seen them play. Kolak’s family was unable to make the trip in from Croatia, but she had family around her.
“It was amazing how everyone here accepted me and everyone welcomed me into their families. So all my teammates’ families were my family, too,” said Kolak, who also thanked the family of redshirt sophomore Ashtaan Horton, strength and conditioning coach Scott McDonald, and academic advisor Christen Steele, among others. “They’ve been there for me since Day One. So even though my family was not able to come there were people who stepped up and were really there for me.”
As Colson, Evans, Kolak and Percy all head for graduation in spring of 2014, they are grateful for having been a part of the Georgia Tech family on the court. They have advice for anyone considering coming to Georgia Tech to play.
“Get excited,” said Colson. “You’re going to meet some of your lifelong best friends here and you’re going to make memories that are going to last you a lifetime and to cherish every moment. There are going to be moments that are tough but those are going to make you better people and really cherish the moments that you get to spend with these people because it’s going to fly by.”
“I don’t think you’ll find a team that’s as much of a family as Georgia Tech,” said Percy. “That’s definitely what got me here. It’s a family away from home and people that love you no matter what, especially playing in O’Keefe Gym. You will never find an experience like this one. “
The O’Keefe faithful are a huge element.
“Why wouldn’t you come here?” asked Kolak. “Georgia Tech has an amazing volleyball program, the fans are incredible, that they come every day and pack the gym and they’re always there for you, and the team is so connected and basically like sisters. That’s something that you don’t want to miss out on.”
“Who wouldn’t want to play at O’Keefe Gym?” said Evans. “They’re out of their minds. There are very few environments like that across the country. Also, the Georgia Tech community, it’s obviously smaller than other big schools but it’s a very tight-knit community and people go out of their way to help you. It’s really a cool thing to be a part of.”
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