Aug. 19, 2016
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Georgia Tech volleyball will need to have things running smoothly when it opens its 2016 season next weekend.
The best way to gauge how close they are will come Saturday afternoon in the annual Gold/White Scrimmage at O’Keefe Gym. The action begins at 3 p.m.
The team can’t wait to show what they’ve got and see what their fans have in store for opponents this season.
“It’s exciting. It’s a chance that we get to kind of rehearse our game day atmosphere and that’s one of the most special things about Georgia Tech volleyball is that atmosphere,” said third-year head coach Michelle Collier. “It’s nice to be able to get out here and compete in front of our fans and families and be able to show them how hard we’ve been working and what they should be looking to in those upcoming few months. It’s a good time of the year to get that rolling.”
A packed O’Keefe Gym, which presents one of the best home-court advantages in the country, is the perfect venue for the Yellow Jackets to hold their annual dress rehearsal in preparation of their season-opener. The Jackets open up next Friday night at what’s sure to be a hostile Auburn Arena, on the campus of Auburn University, against the host Tigers as part of the War Eagle Invitational.
“It’s super-exciting,” said senior outside hitter and Preseason All-ACC selection Teegan Van Gunst. “We’re ready to compete and have fans come watch us and cheer us on. It’s the first opportunity that we get to play in front of people. You can get your nerves down and get ready for a real Friday night game.”
Nerves are something that hits players of all classes and learning to overcome those nerves, especially when playing at O’Keefe, is a must.
“I still get a little wide-eyed going out there and I’m going to be a senior this year,” said senior right side Annika Van Gunst. “You get butterflies in your stomach every time you run out the door and the band’s starting to play and the fans are on their feet already so it’s definitely a little bit nerve wracking but I think it’s a good kind of nervous. The Gold and White Scrimmage is such a great way to kick off your season. So many fans show up for the scrimmage.”
“I was really nervous the first time I was playing here ever but I remember it was fun. It’s always a good time,” said junior outside hitter Gabriela Stavnetchei, who’ll play in her third Gold/White. “It’s pretty awesome because when you play in your own gym everybody’s here for you, to support you. Of course you get nervous but it’s more like an exciting feeling. You want to do well for everybody that is here that has come to see you.”
Last year Emily Becker was among those that came to see the Gold/White. This year, she’ll take the floor as a freshman defensive specialist/libero. She’s looking forward to seeing the event from the players’ point of view.
“I’m really excited about it,” said the Tucker, Ga., native. “I’m really excited to be a part of it and get a lot of touches and be competitive and just kind of play with the girls and have fun.”
“Just enjoy the moment,” said Teegan. “It’s the kickoff of the season and it only gets better from there. The energy that is in the gym is really exciting. So I’m looking forward to that.”
The players are out for more than just having fun, however. For them, winning is the most fun and bragging rights will raise the intensity level.
“It’s so competitive. It’s just different from any other game throughout the season because you’re playing against your own team but it’s a lot of fun,” Annika said. “If you can stuff-block someone or get a kill on the other side or ace them, that’s what you’re looking for and that’s what all the fun is.”
She even recalled being matched up against her sister in past Gold/Whites.
“I know we’ve both blocked each other and both gotten kills off of each other, and tooled each other on the block,” Annika recalled. “She’s an outside and I’m a right side. If we’re on opposite sides of the net a lot of times we’ll match up and be face-to-face across the net from each other. It’s a little bit weird to see her over there but it’s definitely cool and it sparks our competitiveness even more.”
The coaching staff will be observing but also can have a little fun experimenting with the team. The entire starting lineup from last season returns, including five senior starters. In all there are nine upperclassmen, three very eager and talented freshmen and one sophomore, all looking to push their way onto the court or push the starters. That gives Collier and the staff plenty with which to experiment.
“We usually try to use that as far as give everybody an opportunity to play with different setters, just different lineups, different ways that we can be successful,” Collier said. “We know that it’s not going to be just one lineup the whole season. We need everybody to come up and play different roles at different times. So the coaching staff likes to use that time to see who responds well in those situations and how can we use them. Whether it’s in different positions or with different combinations of people around each other, what are the things that we can do so that when it comes to the next weekend that we’re ready? Whatever’s thrown our way we have options and we know what to do with those.
“It’s going to come at us pretty fast, three very good teams at Auburn,” she added. “So we’re not going to have too much time. Saturday is a good opportunity to put them with a little more pressure, when there are people watching and a little more expectation, see how they respond because that’s a little bit closer to what we’re going to be facing in the match.”