Nov. 20, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
When Georgia Tech Volleyball players say, “There’s no place like home” they’re usually referring to O’Keefe Gymnasium.
But this weekend junior libero/DS London Ackermann and sophomore outside hitter Ashley Askin literally are headed home to Louisville, Kentucky. It’s where the Yellow Jackets conclude the penultimate weekend of the 2015 season — they play Notre Dame in South Bend tonight.
It promises to be a family affair for both, with both expecting big family-led turnouts clad in Tech colors.
“They’re very excited. My sister made a big group on Facebook and has invited everyone,” said Ackermann, who helped lead Assumption High School to back-to-back-to-back state championships (2010-12). “Last year I had an entire section at the Yum Center full of family and friends. I’m very interested to see who shows up again this year. It’s great to have support from people I’ve played with and coaches I’ve played for, family or friends. It’s awesome to see them, it’s awesome to play in front of them because I don’t get to do that often. I’m looking forward to it.”
“I’ve been looking at this game since the schedule came out in preseason because I haven’t been home since June. This is going to be huge,” said Askin, who led Sacred Heart Academy to back-to-back district championships in 2012 and `13. “My family is going to be there, my friends are going to be there, my ex-teammates on Louisville. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. Everyone is coming to the Louisville game and everyone is coming to the Louisville game for London, too. So it’s going to be a giant party.”
On the court there will be something of a Dickensian theme, with a “Tale of Two Cities” theme that might begin, “It was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams.”
No. 17 Louisville leads the ACC, with a 21-5 and a near pristine 15-1 home slate, while Notre Dame sits at the bottom, at 6-22, 1-15 in conference play. While Georgia Tech (17-11, 8-8) sits right in the middle of the two record-wise, their preparation includes taking their opponents’ records and throwing them out the window.
Notre Dame has struggled at home, where they are 2-9, 0-8 in ACC competition, having been swept six times and winning a total of three games. But the Jackets are wary, as Clemson walked into O’Keefe nine days earlier winless in 14 conference matches and came out with a 3-1 victory.
“You can’t put too much weight in that because Clemson didn’t have such a great record but they came out and they fought and ended up beating us,” said Askin. “So those details are important to an extent but we can’t overlook any team in the ACC.”
“I have respect for Notre Dame, of course,” agreed Ackermann. “Record doesn’t matter. At the end of the day we’re going to play volleyball and we’re going to try to win and it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the court.”
Tech will look to complete a season sweep of the Fighting Irish, having swept them on Oct. 11 at O’Keefe.
This match is personal for Askin, whose mom played basketball and her dad, football at Notre Dame. There is an extra layer of importance this time, as although Georgia Tech is 2-0 since Askin arrived on campus — including a dramatic 3-2 win last season at Purcell Pavilion, where the Jackets rallied from 1-2 down — she has yet to take the court in either match. That is likely to change, as she has become an effective element in the Jackets’ front.
“I’ve definitely become more consistent,” said the 6-1 sophomore, who is fourth on the team with 191 kills, 2.08 kills per match, is fifth in digs with 135, and tied for second with 15 service aces. “I’ve always been a power hitter but my focus this year has been ball-control, serve and pass. Being more consistent that’s emerged me as a better leader because people can count on me. People know, `Ashley is going to do her job. I don’t need to worry about her.’ So I’ve come into my role a lot more this year.”
Askin’s teammates realize how important putting on a good show in South Bend is and have her back.
“It’s a big deal,” said Ackermann. “We need to back her up especially in this game and make it a lot of fun and come out with a win.”
Sunday afternoon the Jackets will face Cardinals, who are flying high, having won 15 of their last 16 matches, including 11 straight at home — eight in a row at Yum! Center. In ACC play, they’ve won eight straight at home heading into Friday’s match with Clemson, winning five of them at love and dropping a total of four sets.
As with Notre Dame, Georgia Tech has thrown out Louisville’s record — including a 3-0 loss at O’Keefe on Oct. 9, although they might want to keep their most recent trip to Yum! last September 28 in mind, when the Jackets pushed the Cardinals to five sets, rallying from 0-2 before falling 15-10 in Game Five.
Tech isn’t intimidated by the Cardinals’ excellence. Instead, they plan to play pressure-free.
“We’ll be a little bit more relaxed in the sense that it might not be a game that we’re supposed to win but I definitely know that we have the potential to beat any team in the ACC at any time,” said Ackermann, whose family family owned football season tickets. “I think that everyone in the ACC is fair game. It’s very competitive this year. So I think it’s going to be who comes prepared and ready to play.”
“We know they’re a good team, we know what they’re capable of doing,” said Askin. “We have nothing to lose. We can go out there, play as hard as we can, swing as hard as we can and if we come out with a win then that’s awesome. But Louisville is a great team so everyone is going to have to play together. It can’t just be one or two people. So this is going to be a great challenge for all of us to step up.”
The Louisville natives aren’t the only ones with incentive. The team is looking to hit 20 wins for the first time since 2009, and finish over .500 in the ACC for the first time since 2010 — they last did both in `09.
“This is the final push. Teams are tired. It’s been a long season but this is where it shows, who’s got the fight? Who wants to win? Where’s the heart?” said Askin. “So these are very, very important for us. It might not be a bad thing that we’re coming off two losses because we’re hungry. We’re coming back out there swinging away.”
“Every game is incentive,” said Ackermann. “We have the potential to end up in a good place. We are looking forward and I think that is the most important thing. Live in the present but look forward to the future and what we can do. I think we’re ready to come out, be competitive and play our best volleyball.”