July 26, 2016
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Teegan Van Gunst will be watching the USA volleyball team at the upcoming Rio Olympics with a greater investment than most.
She can think, “that could be me” and it’ll mean more because soon that could be the case.
The senior from Fayetteville, Ga., who is about two weeks away from embarking on her final season at Georgia Tech, took the first step in fulfilling those Olympic dreams in late June, travelling to Indianapolis to participate in a week-long open gym with the U.S. Collegiate National Team (USCNT).
Van Gunst, a first-team All-ACC selection, the Jackets’ first since 2012, an AVCA All-Region pick and an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American, was one of 36 college players from around the nation that took part in the three-day round-robin competition June 26-29.
“It was a really great experience,” she said. “We didn’t see any of the Olympic team there because they were off playing overseas but the group that I was with, it was a really good opportunity to learn how the USA Gym operates and what their philosophies are behind how they play.”
Van Gunst played on the Red Team, with libero Ashley Dusek of Kentucky, also an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American, as well as with current ACC talent, middle blockers Tess Clark (Louisville) and Jenna Potts (Pittsburgh). The ACC was well represented, as their six players were more than the Big Ten (five), Big 12 (five), Pac-12 (three), or SEC (two).
“There were actually quite a few ACC foes there so I actually got pretty close to them,” she said. “There also was another Louisville right side (Janelle Jenkins) and a Florida State outside (Katie Horton) that I got to talk to while I was there. It’ll be fun when we get in season playing against them.”
Georgia Tech head coach Michelle Collier saw nothing but positives in the opportunity.
“It’s good to see her representing our program,” said Collier. “I think that was really special and speaks a lot about Teegan but I think most of all that speaks a lot about every kid in our program and how much they’re getting better and how much work they’re putting in.
“I think that it was really good for her to be in the situation where she didn’t know people and she had to step up, and she had to learn new philosophies and new systems and she had to adapt in a small period of time,” Collier added. “She responded really well and I think that speaks volumes about what we do in our gym. As much as we train for the overall game that it should help them just train volleyball in any system that they’re in or in any way that they want, that they’re really just learning the true game of volleyball and I think that Teegan has bought into that and become a very strong outside hitter.
“She’s learning about the responsibilities of that position, she’s doing a lot of the important things for the position at a very high level and I think she can play for any team in the country so that’s good to be able to create a culture that you’re developing your players and they can be part of special opportunities like that and really be able to adapt quickly because that’s how we train.”
Van Gunst, who led the ACC in kills (471, the most for a Jacket since Monique Mead in 2012), kills per set (3.92), and points (520), ranked second in the conference in points per set (1.33), had 20 double-doubles and started all 120 sets, found the experience of going through the process with the U.S. Team eye-opening and sees it as an invaluable first step in playing for USA Volleyball, where just getting in the door can be a difficult process.
“I think it depends how early you start in the pipeline,” she said. “This was my first USA program, but for a lot of people, they grow up in it, do their club years. So for me, it was probably a little harder to get in.”
While Teegan has that foothold she knows there’s a different set of challenges waiting when it comes to making that final jump to the Olympics.
“Once you’re in it, it’s clearly hard to make that final 12 cut out of everyone in the U.S., that final 12 for the Olympics,” she said. “So that definitely gets harder and harder the farther you get up the pipeline.”
Collier sees Van Gunst as only the first of many Yellow Jackets to get the opportunity to take the court with the National Team.
“She’s a great representative of what we’re doing and the things that we’re getting better at,” said Collier. “I think it’s special to have a player like Teegan on our team but I think it’s even more special to have the group that we have that has helped Teegan to get there and I think more and more players are going to follow.”
Van Gunst isn’t looking that far down the road, however. She’s locked in on the 2016 season, with practices beginning on Aug. 8, the Gold-White Scrimmage being held at O’Keefe Gym on Aug. 20 and the season opener taking place the following weekend in Auburn as part of the War Eagle Invitational, with matches against the host Tigers on the 26th then against Pacific and Furman the following day.
Teegan also is looking forward to ACC season, where she plans to take advantage of the newfound knowledge on her ACC counterparts Clark, Jenkins, Potts, Horton and Pittsburgh Middle Blocker Kelsey O’Neill, although she admits that is something of a double-edged sword.
“Probably when teams are doing scouting on us we will have a few extra things to say about each other just because we played with each other for two weeks,” Van Gunst said. “But it will be fun and I’m looking forward to it. Something that I took back from that experience was the friends that you make across the net or, in my case, on the same side of the net and then getting to go back and play in regular season is going to be exciting.”