Sept. 2, 2016
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
There’s nothing more fun than winning.
Georgia Tech volleyball experienced that bliss last weekend, when the Jackets went into Auburn to start their 2016 season and came out with three W’s.
“We had a lot of fun and competed really well and the outcome ended up in our favor,” said senior libero/defensive specialist London Ackermann. “As a team everyone brought their best and played really well and complimented each other. Overall it was a good team win and it was a lot of fun.”
“We did a great job defensively. We dug a lot of balls,” said head coach Michelle Collier, whose team is off to a 3-0 start for the first time in her three years at the helm. “London had a great tournament for us, touched a lot of balls in the blocks, and we served really well and passed really well.”
Ackermann did well enough to be named tournament MVP and one of three Yellow Jackets to be named to the all-tournament team (outside hitter Teegan Van Gunst and right side hitter Annika Van Gunst also made it), coming up with 61 digs for the weekend, 28 of them against Pacific, one off her career-high.
Led by Ackermann, Tech put on a solid defensive effort.
“I’m very proud of everyone and all the effort,” she said. “Annika Van Gunst always brings her defensive game. So that wasn’t a shock to me, but there weren’t any balls that hit the floor without effort. I think that’s the biggest thing that we’ve really put emphasis on this season is going all out and going after every ball that we possibly can.”
The Jackets hope to bring that same kind of energy this weekend, when they head to Bramlage Coliseum in Manahattan, Kansas, to participate in the K-State Invitational. They’ll have the their work cut out for them, as they’ll face Tennessee State (4-0) of the Ohio Valley Conference on Friday night at 8:30 p.m., then double down on Saturday, playing Big 10 rival Michigan (3-0) at 11 a.m. and conclude against host K-State (2-1) of the Big 12 at 8:30 p.m. (all times ET).
Tech’s opponents all fared well in their opening weekend, combining to lose a total of eight sets.
TSU swept Texas Southern and Alabama A&M, took a four-setter against defending SWAC champ Jackson State and a five-setter against Alabama State to win the ISTAP Collegiate Cup 1 in Lockhard Gymnasium in Montgomery, Ala., led by senior OH Chole Watson (56 kills, 3.73 per set).
Michigan went 3-0, handling Saint Louis, Miami (Ohio) and Northern Iowa, to win the Michigan Invitational. UM was led by senior MB Abby Cole, the MVP the tournament, who averaged 4.11 kills per set, with a .317 attack percentage and 1.22 blocks per set. She was one of three Wolverines on the all-tournament team, joined by junior MB Claire Kieffer-Wright (nine kills, .500 attack average vs. Miami) and sophomore Carly Skjodt (a career-high 13 kills against Saint Louis and Miami, nine blocks against Miami).
Home-standing K-State took two of three in the Wahine Invitational in Honolulu, allowing Arizona and No. 6 Hawaii one game, before losing 3-0 to No. 4 Wisconsin. They were led by seniors OH Brooke Sassin (36 kills, 3.7 per set) and setter Katie Brand (110 assists, 10.0 per set), who were all-tournament.
“It’s going to be the next level of volleyball,” said Collier. “Those are good volleyball teams, they’re super-physical, they play in top conferences in the country so they’re used to good volleyball all the time. I think it will be a good challenge for us. I think it will give us an idea of where we really are right now and where we need to go and kind of put a plan for the rest of the season. It will be a good measuring point to find out. If we want to be a top team in the ACC we need to compete well against teams like this. It will be a good opportunity to get them early in the season and kind of have an idea of where we need to be when conference starts.”
The Jackets did a lot of good things in winning the War Eagle Invitational, topping Auburn (3-1), Pacific (3-1) and Furman (3-0). They handled a loud home crowd, and came back from dropping the first set to Auburn in the opener, before taking the next three games, then overcame a 17-11 deficit in game two against Pacific to take a 2-0 lead on the way to another four-gamer, then swept Furman. Tech was 5-2 in games decided by five-or-fewer points.
“It’s just a testament to the personality that we have, the culture that we’re building and where we’re looking to go,” said Annika. “It’s good to have those tests early in the season. That way you know you’ve been through it so when it comes up again later in the season you’re ready for it. You know you’ve been there and you’ve accomplished it and you’re ready to get after it.”
The Jackets served exceptionally well all weekend, recording 18 aces and forcing 36 service errors. On the other side, the Jackets allowed only eight aces and had 22 service errors.
“[Serving] was something that we knew we needed to do better if we want to compete with the top teams in our conference and in the nation,” said Collier. “So we had to take our serving game to the next level. I think that we still have a lot more to do but it’s nice. We can control the game a little more from the service line, which really puts us at an advantage against our opponent and I think that the opponents having so many serving errors goes to how well our passing was performing. We put pressure on their servers because they needed to really try to get us out of system and give us a tough serve and that’s hard to do consistently. So that generated more errors for their side because of how well our passers were doing.”
“It was pretty good and it got the other teams out of system a lot, which also helped us overall,” said Teegan. “We’re just staying more aggressive on our serve. We’ve been practicing that a lot in practice under pressure, having to make our serves. So I think it’s definitely paid off thus far.”
As she was all weekend, Ackermann was a key performer, serving at .958 with five aces, both team-highs.
She played with a confidence that proved contagious.
“London has a lot of confidence on the court, which feeds into everyone else’s confidence,” said Teegan. “When she’s playing well and having a good time on the court you can definitely tell. The excitement and the energy are always there.”
Georgia Tech will try to sustain that energy this weekend as they look to stay unbeaten and continue to build on what was a great start to what they expect to be a special season.
Collier stressed — and will stress to her team going in — that last weekend was only that, a start.
“It was a good starting point for where we need to be,” she said. “It’s good to see that we’re winning those matches and I still think we can be so much better. So it’s exciting.”
It’s an excitement that last weekend they found out they want to continue to experience.
“When we got back to our apartment Saturday night we were like, ‘We want to feel this way after every weekend,’” said Teegan. “We just want to have fun, want to have that feeling inside that we did everything we could and just leave the results up to what they are. But it was a lot of fun.”