The Good Word | by Jon Cooper
Julia Bergmann will turn 19 in February, making her one of the youngest players on a young Georgia Tech Volleyball team.
Of course, age doesn’t matter to her.
Being the youngest is par for the course for the native of Munich, Germany (her father’s homeland) who moved to Brazil (her mom’s country of origin) at age 10. It happened on the Brazilian National Team, where in the 2018 FIVB Girls’ U18s, she ranked second on the team (15th overall) in scoring with 100 points, 3.49 per set, and 18 service aces (fourth in the tournament), and on the U20 squad, where she helped Brazil win last year’s South American U20 Championships. Earlier this summer, she was the baby on Brazil’s Pan American Games team that advanced to the semifinals.
“I didn’t get to play a lot but it was a great experience, the Pan Am Games — a lot of countries, and professionals, and really great players,” said Bergmann, who began playing volleyball at age 12, swam and played volleyball for three years, then gave up swimming to concentrate solely on volleyball at age 15. “It was good for me. I got to know new people.”
The Pan Am Games experience delayed her from getting to know the 18 new people on the Georgia Tech roster, although the team’s recent bonding trip to Destin, Fla., helped make up ground.
“Those two days when we were at the beach really helped. We talked and I got to know them very well,” she said. “I think it was a great experience going those two days. We became closer.”
Head coach Michelle Collier is impressed with how quickly Bergmann has fit in since she began practicing with the team last Monday, giving her five days to prepare for Saturday’s Gold/White Scrimmage.
“She jumped right in, felt very comfortable with the players,” said Collier. “I think that our trip was great for her to spend some time with the girls and really get a little more comfortable with them.”
One player Bergmann didn’t need to get more comfortable with was sophomore outside hitter Mariana Brambilla.
Brambilla, a countryman and Julia’s teammate in 2016 and ‘17 with club team Abel Brusque as well as on Brazil’s U18 National Team, welcomed the reunion.
“I think it is super-nice to have a Brazilian on the team, to have someone that I was practicing with when I was like 15, 16, 17,” said Brambilla. “It’s really good because we can help each other and have different vision and tell each other what we should do, what we need to do to get better and also talk in Portuguese during the game. We’re always talking.”
Brambilla actually unintentionally helped make Bergmann a talking point in Tech’s recruiting process.
“When I was recruiting Mariana I saw Julia on video,” recalled Collier. “I was like, ‘Wow! Who’s THAT kid?’ So we did a little bit of research on her. When Mariana got here we mentioned her and, of course, there were conversations with her about her wanting to come to the U.S. so we got her on an official visit here in the spring.
“Having that connection with Mariana obviously helped,” Collier added. “Then (assistant coach) Claudio (Pinheiro) and I being from Brazil and having our connections in Brazil, I think that is kind of a trifecta. We were able to persuade her to come here. We’re very happy to have her.”
Brambilla was very happy for her role in helping seal the deal in getting Bergmann to commit.
“I’m one year older than her so when I was finishing high school I already had signed up that I was coming here,” she recalled. “She was thinking about staying in Brazil or coming to the United States. She was looking for colleges and I was like, ‘Oh, you should go to Georgia Tech.’”
Bergmann admits Brambilla was instrumental in her choice of Georgia Tech.
“I definitely talked to her during my decision, asked what she thought,” said Bergmann. “Maybe one of the reasons was because she was here. She knows everything and she can help me get to know people and places. That helps a lot.”
The former teammates in Brazil are looking to bring their history of winning championships to Atlanta.
In Saturday’s Gold/White, Bergmann and Brambilla teamed up and excelled for Gold over the final four sets (Brambilla was with White for Set #1). The unofficial stats had them finishing 1-2 for white in kills (Brambilla, 17, Bergmann, 12) and points (Brambilla, 18.5, Bergmann, 17) — Brambilla added four kills and four points in her set with White. Bergmann also made a game-high 15 digs.
It was quite a first impression by the freshman outside hitter.
“She’s got great size so she’s physical but she’s also a great all-around player,” said Collier. “She handles the ball really well for her size, plays defense, is a good blocker, has a great serve. She’s a very complete player. I think she fits in our system really well. She can develop more range in her attack, just be able to hit some different tempos of sets and things like that but I think she is really ahead of a lot of freshmen in the country. It’s going to be fun to see her grow.”
On Saturday the Jackets showed there are a lot of players that will be fun to see grow.
Bergmann’s classmates, middle blocker Erin Moss, libero/defensive specialist Paola Laborda and outside hitter Grace McIntosh all shone.
“These are kids that have a lot of experience and have played a lot,” Collier said. “Julia spent all summer playing internationally. Erin has played a bigger role on other teams that she’s played on. I thought Paola and Grace McIntosh did a great job today as well. So it was good to see them really feel comfortable, acclimated. There is still a long way to go, but I think there were a lot of positive things that we saw today.”
The sophomore class showed a lot, led by Brambilla, 2019 preseason all-ACC outside hitter Mikaila Dowd, setter Matti McKissock, libero/defensive specialist Maddie Tippett and middle blocker Kayla Kaiser, while junior outside hitter Dominique Washington and senior middle blocker Kodie Comby were among the upperclassmen setting a strong example.
“I thought everybody had a lot of poise today, which was great to see, even our younger players,” said Collier. “I think it’s great to get out here, have some refs, get used to a little more of the discipline on the switches — we got called a bunch of times for that. It was good to kind of have a rehearsal of what we will have to do facing Auburn in a week. It was good to see them just in this environment, it was good to play with some different lineups and options. It’s really exciting to see that we have a lot of different options.”
The players were pleased with their performance.
“This was the first game that we actually played together and we did a really great job,” said Bergmann. “We talked a lot, before and during the game. We played together very well.”
“I think that the scrimmage was really good because we know what things we need to work on,” said Brambilla. “It was good to play an actual game because we’ve been practicing a lot. Practice is different from when you put on the jersey. You have pressure, when you have games. It’s different because we practice every day so we know which play each player is going to execute. We need to keep working. I think it was a good start for the season.”
The Jackets’ next test comes Saturday when they travel to Auburn for a final exhibition match before kicking off the season on Aug. 30 in the Georgia Tech Invitational, hosting Long Beach State, Southern, and UNC Asheville.
Collier will continue consulting with assistants Claudio Pinheiro and Arielle Wilson about how they want the team to look. But she likes the choices she has for various roles.
“We have a lot of options with all the hitters that we have on our squad this year. There are many ways to set them up,” she said. “So we were playing with some different things, having some players play some different positions to see exactly what we want and what’s going to make us be the most successful.
“I think in the long run what’s going to determine our success is going to be just the team and the cohesion and how we will be able to understand that everybody on this team can step on the court and finish matches, win matches for us, execute,” she added. “We can have a good idea of who starts but we don’t know who’s going to finish. So we’re going to do what it takes to win.”