April 4, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
It’s been awhile since the phrase “Point, Tech!” has been heard at O’Keefe Gym.
Yellow Jackets players have missed hearing it and fans have missed shouting it.
Both players and fans will get their fill of the cheer on Saturday as Georgia Tech hosts Yellow Jacket Spring Tournament 2015.
“It’s going to be exciting to play in our gym again, play in front of family and friends,” said Head Coach Michelle Collier, who prepares for her second season on The Flats. “It gives people the opportunity to see some of the things we’ve been working on this spring and just go after it. I think the girls are excited for it. It’s going to be a full day.”
The all-day event features a loaded six-team field that includes three SEC teams, Florida, Tennessee and Auburn, Central Florida of the American Athletic Conference and Ohio Valley Conference power Jacksonville State.
Tech begins its day at 9:15 a.m. against UCF, the American Athletic Conference Champion, led by `14 American Coach of the Year Todd Dagenais and sophomore outside hitters Kia Bright and Jale Hervey, both all-conference first-teamers. The rest of the day, Tech sees nothing but the SEC, playing the 2014 SEC regular season champion Gators, led by Conference Coach of the Year Mary Wise, a 14-time winner of the award, sophomore outside hitter Alex Holston, the SEC Player of the Year, and middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan, the SEC Freshman of the Year at 11:15 a.m. then Tennessee at 2:15 p.m. before moving to the Georgia World Congress Center (Hall A3), to complete the SEC trifecta against Auburn at 5 p.m.
Each match is two sets to 25 or 55 minutes. Time permitting, the teams can play a third set to 15.
The busy Saturday is familiar territory to Georgia Tech, last week they played in the UT-Chattanooga Spring Tournament, where they met Georgia State, Kennesaw State and Ole Miss. It’s the second of four competition days teams are permitted during the spring.
Getting the opportunity to face such diverse competition is providing valuable experience.
“It will definitely help us, especially, in the spring when you don’t get to play a whole lot of matches,” said sophomore outside hitter Teegan Van Gunst, the team’s leading hitter last season (392 kills). “So just seeing different people on the other side of the net, besides your own teammates that you’re used to playing day in and day out, it gets you more alert, on your toes because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The Jackets don’t know what’s going to happen or even where or with whom they will be playing, as Collier plans to try out different combinations of players against the different styles of play.
“We’re trying to play different people and try to play as many matches as we can in one day. The way the off-season works, we can’t really spread matches out,” she said. “We want to be able to see different teams that have different strengths and try to work on different things with the team. That’s what every team is trying to do, pick up as many matches as they can on that one playdate. At the same time, have a variety of opponents that you’re working on different things.
“Some conferences will be more physical, others will have better ball control, be more defensively oriented, others are more offensively oriented,” she added. “We’re going to have a good mix of a lot of talented teams here in our gym. So it’s going to be a challenging day for sure.”
As big part of the challenge for the Jackets is how they handle fatigue.
“We definitely want to make sure that we can do things well and we can do those things well consistently and we can do them when we’re tired,” Collier said. “It’s an opportunity we have in the spring to play a lot of games, touch a lot of balls, do different lineups, put people in different positions and challenge ourselves physically and mentally. So it’s a good combination of everything we need to get better at.”
There’s more at stake than simply taking stock in anticipation of the coming season. The Jackets would like to put their best foot forward for potential recruits, who will be in the crowd.
“This weekend is a pretty big weekend for us because we get a lot of recruits in the area,” said Collier. “It’s an opportunity that we have to play in front of our recruits and you don’t really get that opportunity, especially in the spring. We have kids coming from everywhere, from Puerto Rico and from other places, so we definitely want to make sure that we compete but we also show what our program is about and what we’re building with this program. So it’s a very important weekend for us.”
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