Sept. 25, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Up Next: Friday: @ Clemson, 7:00 p.m., Jervey Gym, ESPN3
Sunday: Boston College, 1:00 p.m., O’Keefe Gym, ESPN3, WREK, 91.1 FM
It’s ACC Opening Weekend. Nothing else needs be said.
Georgia Tech volleyball head coach Michelle Collier has been gearing her team up for this weekend since the end of last season.
The Yellow Jackets start Friday night in Clemson then open at home Sunday afternoon against Boston College.
“We’re excited. I think that we have prepared ourselves for this opportunity and we’re just excited to face the conference,” said Collier, whose Jackets enter the match at 9-3. “It’s good volleyball all around, every match that you play. It’s a challenging environment but it’s also a fun environment. You know you’re always going to play a good team on the other side and it’s going to take your best. So we’re ready for it. We’re excited.”
It’s a tale of two openers, for the Jackets, as different as the venues themselves.
Friday night, the Jackets visit the arch-rival Tigers (5-7), against whom they are 26-34 all-time — not so bad considering Tech started the series losing the first 12 matches and dropped 17 of the first 19. In Clemson they are 10-17 and have been on the short end of four straight matches and seven of the last 10.
The Jackets are confident this trip will be different.
“We don’t dwell in the past,” said Collier. “It’s a new opportunity that we get. Nothing really matters what happened in the past. Hopefully the players learned from some of those things and we’re putting ourselves in better situations now to be able to be successful.
“It’s tough to play there. They have a great environment,” she added. “They have a new coaching staff so I’m sure they’re fired up to play us but so are we. I think it’s a nice little rivalry. It’s fun and it’s healthy. We’re definitely going for them and we expect a good match.”
Leaving the past in the past is a good idea. They especially want to move on from last year’s struggles on the road — a 2-10 record, 1-9 in conference arenas.
Moving on starts with the players and getting a new mindset.
“The past two years have been tough there but we’re hoping to turn it around,” said outside hitter Teegan Van Gunst, the team’s leader in kills (167), who has six double-doubles on the season. “That was definitely one of our focuses during the preseason, to show up and be ready to play in whatever gym we go to. Part of that is focusing on our side of the net and what we’re doing on our side so the atmosphere doesn’t take control of how we play, really staying together on our side of the net, keeping the communication up if things aren’t going well, really relying on ourselves to bring energy and passion to wherever we go. That’s one of our focuses going into this weekend. We should be able to go in and compete hard and get a win.”
The Jackets are looking to match the results they got in going through their quality non-conference schedule, which saw wins over Mercer, Georgia Southern and Georgia, in Athens in the Georgia Challenge, then South Florida and UC Davis at the Nebraska Ameritas Players Challenge. Even though the Ameritas Players Challenge ended with a 3-0 loss at No. 5 Nebraska then they experienced something of a hiccup at Kennesaw State, where they lost 3-1, Tech feels it’s ready to get things going in their ACC road debut.
“This preseason has helped with our confidence going into ACC play,” said Van Gunst. “So we’re really looking forward to starting off strong even though we’re on the road.”
“It’s building just a whole new mentality,” agreed middle blocker Sydney Wilson, who is leading the team with 50 blocks (1.16 per match) and is right on Van Gunst’s heels in kills, as she is tied with Annika Van Gunst for second on the team with 109 kills. “We haven’t played well there in the past so we need to go there and sell out. We had a very successful preseason. Kennesaw we definitely didn’t play our best so we’re ready to play Clemson.”
As much as the Jackets are looking to forget past road difficulties in Clemson and otherwise, they must put aside the success they’ve had against Boston College, which comes to town Sunday afternoon for a matinee to kick off their ACC home schedule.
The Jackets have dominated the Eagles, going 18-2 all time, 12-0 at O’Keefe, and riding a 15-match win streak, with nine of those wins coming at love. Tech hasn’t lost to B.C. since Oct. 8, 2006.
“All those stats are good but we have to live in the present,” said Collier. “This is the team that we have now. That’s the team that they have now. It doesn’t matter if we’ve beaten them 15 [straight] times. This team is not going to come in here thinking that they’re going to lose to us. So we have to be prepared for whatever it takes and, again, it’s kind of live in the present and make sure we’re executing at those times.”
The Jackets players certainly don’t want any part of the past numbers. They’re looking at the present, which saw Boston College head into its ACC Opener at Syracuse sporting an 8-4 record, having won four straight, three of them at love, including winning the New England Challenge against Northeastern (3-0), Connecticut (3-0) and Harvard (3-2).
“I don’t really focus on that kind of stuff, just our game plan going into each and every match. What are we going to do to win?” said Van Gunst. “What’s happened in the past, that’s not the same team, we’re not the same team so we really have to focus on our side of the net and what we have to do to win.”
“Anybody can get beaten on any day,” Wilson added. “Kennesaw definitely showed that. We have to come out and play our game.”
A precedent the Jackets are looking forward to seeing repeat is the impact of the crowd at O’Keefe and their ability to feed off that crowd.
“I think that we have one of the best home environments in the Conference,” said Collier. “We always look forward to coming back to O’Keefe and playing in front of our friends and family, with the band and [the crowd] being loud and going after it. We know we’re going to face a very good team. Boston College is playing really well. So we’re definitely excited for the challenge.”
“We’re super-excited playing Boston College here,” said Van Gunst. “Hopefully we’ll have a whole lot of fans here, our band here and we’ll be ready to roll. Obviously, it’s always a good atmosphere playing at home, so we’re excited to get it started.”