Aug. 14, 2011
By Jon Cooper
For the last four years, whenever August rolled around and volleyballs started flying around O’Keefe Gym, Mary Ashley Tippins was right there, setting balls for Georgia Tech’s hitters.
Old habits die hard, so when August rolled around, and the volleyballs started flying around O’Keefe Gym, there was ‘Mash.’ She couldn’t help but be there.
“I can’t get enough of volleyball,” said Tippins, who is helping out the 2011 team as a student-assistant coach, while completing her final semester (she’s on course to graduate in September). “I figured if I’m going to be here for another semester why not help the team? This is a huge part of my life and I’m not quite ready to let it go.”
Her teammates were more than willing to let her hold on.
“‘Mash’ keeps sticking around,” said junior rightside hitter Monique Mead. “She was always a great team leader and she really wants to get into coaching. Being back with us, where she’s comfortable, and being able to have feedback and give input, is going to help her get better at what she wants to do, which is coaching.”
“She was a sophomore when I came here, so i played with her for three years. Now I’m a senior and she’s a coach,” said senior middle blocker Asia Stawicka.” That’s weird but it’s good. She will be a big help for our setters to help them get comfortable in a zone with the [middle blockers]. So she will be good for both of us, middles and setters.”
Tippins, who dished out 3,646 assists in her career, third-most all- time, will play a big role in helping break in the team’s new setter.
Sophomore Kaleigh Colson and freshman Ali Santi are the main candidates to start, but both are lacking experience. Head Coach Tonya Johnson is counting on Tippins to lend a guiding hand to the youngsters.
“‘Mash’ will be a nice addition to our staff,” said Johnson. “She will be vital in terms of helping our setters out and helping them deal with the daily stress of being a setter. It’s pretty common that there are two people in that position. You look at all the other positions, we’re three to five people deep. All they have to rely on is each other. So having ‘Mash’ here should be a valuable asset to them both. I hope they take advantage of that.”
Colson and Santi both were aware of Tippins’ presence coming into the preseason practices and are eager to do so.
“I like having her around,” said Colson, who saw action in three sets as a freshman last season, registering one assist and one dig. “She helped me a lot last year just getting comfortable. I think it’s great that she’s here to continue doing that.”
“When I went on my unofficial and my official visits, I came to games and I watched her set,” said Santi. “I really look up to her and it’s going to be awesome to have her helping me out. I take her feedback into account so much and it’s just great to have her here.”
Tippins plans to be hands-on, but said that a lot of her mentoring will be instilling the proper attitude and state of mind.
“I want to help out in drills. I think that’s fun,” she said. “I know, with setters I want to help as much as I can, give them a lot of feedback, and advice on how to take over a game because Kaleigh hasn’t played in a match yet and Ali, obviously hasn’t. I want to be there and be that advice for them.
“I’d advise them to ‘Just take control. Have a voice and have a presence on the court, because you’re the quarterback of the team,'” she added. “They have to lead this team because they’re touching about every ball that comes over on our side of the net. So, they need to be able to take that leadership role. Even though they’re so young, they have to step up and have a voice on that court.”
Having her contributions limited to verbal advice has made the transition to coaching difficult.
“The hardest part for me is that I still want to be out there playing,” she said. “As much as I dreaded preseason [practices], I envy these girls. I’m just not ready to give it up yet. I know a lot of other coaches have told me, ‘Don’t go into coaching until all the playing is completely out of your system. It’s so much easier.’ Right now I’m just itching to get out there.”
Tippins admitted that she has found a bright side to being on the coaching side, however.
“I’m not going to be as tired,” she said. “Coaching is tiring but in a different way. It’s definitely a lot of stress off of you. Now I know I can come to practice and I’m not pushing myself 100 percent and exhausting myself in that sense. I can just come to practice now and kind of enjoy myself and really take it all in. So it’s not going to be as stressful for me.”