The Good Word | by Jon Cooper
Youth will definitely be served this fall at O’Keefe Gym.
In fact, beginning today, there’s a good chance youth also will be serving, and returning, and bumping, and setting and hitting and blocking and digging.
Georgia Tech volleyball begins practice for the 2018 season, with an 18-woman roster comprised of 12 underclassmen; seven of the 12 are freshmen. Furthermore, two of the six upperclassmen are new to the program, having transferred and there’s only one senior.
It wouldn’t have been surprising if name tags were as much a part of the uniform as the new Adidas gear the players wear this season.
If anyone can handle a young team it’s fifth-year head coach Michelle Collier, but this year’s team should even challenge her, as it’s the youngest team she’s had since arriving in Atlanta in 2014. Her previous youngest team was ‘14, with nine underclassmen. This year’s team has the most freshmen, topping last year’s crop of five.
Collier and her staff are embracing the challenge, as the incoming freshman class was ranked highest honorable mention by PrepVolleyball.com. They group is already coming together nicely following summer workouts.
Collier and her staff are embracing the challenge. She believes molding this turned-over roster may not be that daunting a task. They group is already coming together nicely following summer workouts.
“Talking to our players, they’re all very excited about the group of people we have,” said Collier. “It’s a group that enjoys working hard and challenging themselves. They’re very good teammates to each other. (I had) Lots of discussions back from the strength coach as well. There’s a lot of potential there, a lot of stuff to build upon. It’s a physical group, probably one of the most physical groups that I have had since I’ve been here. Our goal is to make sure that we shape them and sharpen their skills, make them better. But they’re great athletes and great teammates. They’ve been working hard this whole summer to make sure that they’re ready to go.”
That physicality will add to the experience gained last year by the 11 returners, six of whom — right side hitters Grace Rigsbee and Cori Clifton, both sophomores, DS/liberos Sam Knapp (sophomore) and Emily Becker (junior) and middle blockers Lauren Frerking (the team’s lone senior) and junior Kodie Comby — saw lots of court time as part of the team that knocked off a top-25 team (No. 17 Michigan State) for the first time in five years and the first time in Collier’s tenure.
That physicality will have to make up for the lack of experience, as only two returning players started as many as 10 matches last season — Comby and Clifton.
Collier believes it will.
“You can never teach experience, that’s something that’s hard to do but there are a lot of other things that we can do that don’t take experience that reflect pretty big on the court, on our results,” she said. “That is working hard, being committed, being invested in what we’re doing, being good teammates.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of depth at each position, so that competition is going to push players to do better on a daily basis,” she added. “So I think there are a lot of things that we can do at a high level that will help overcome a little bit of that lack of experience. They’re willing to work for Georgia Tech volleyball.”
The team will get right to work on Wednesday and will get thrown right into competitive fire this weekend.
The Gold and White Scrimmage, which in the past has taken place at the end of training camp as a kind of season preview, will this year conclude the first week of practice, serving as a trial by fire for the high-stakes, high-intensity competition ahead.
The scrimmage takes place Sunday at O’Keefe, beginning at 1 p.m.
“This will be kind of a first goal,” Collier said. “We felt it would be a good time. It will put a little more pressure on our players, it will kind of get them a little more comfortable with people watching them, having the uniform on, and creating a little bit more of a reality for them. This one will be more of a trial.”
The Gold and White will be more of a feeling-out process for Collier and her staff.
“I don’t think there are too many expectations. We’ll only be a few days into preseason, we’ll only have a couple of practices before they do that,” she said. “Our goal is to just see how they respond, how each player responds with a little more pressure on them. We know that practice is practice. Once the lights are on and the expectations are on you in that match, it’s a little different feeling. The more we can put them through that scenario the better it is for us just because we are young and we have a lot of moving pieces. So we need to see who plays together well so that will give me an opportunity to try some different lineups, do some different things. So it will be a good opportunity early in preseason to just put them through some of that feeling.”
The team will have another exhibition match next Saturday against Auburn at O’Keefe (a 4 p.m. start) before the season-opening Hyatt Regency Invitational Aug. 24 against Idaho State (starting at noon) then Winthrop (7 p.m.). They’ll conclude the Hyatt Regency with two matches the next day against Abilene Christian (12 p.m.) and Georgetown (7 p.m.)
Collier can’t wait to get things going.
“We have some great leadership. We have a pretty talented freshman class,” she said. “They’re excited. They’re ready to get to work. Experience comes with playing and they’ll get an opportunity to do that and I think that will make them better juniors and seniors. It’s great that they get the opportunity to play a big part in the program right away, as soon as they set foot on campus. So it’s a neat opportunity for them.
“They understand the challenges. They understand where we want to be and how much work it’s going to take to get there,” she added. “They also know they wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that they could do that. So we’re excited to get them going and see how far we can go this season.”