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#TGW: Tee-ing Off

Oct. 28, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

With all due respect to Vince Lombardi, sometimes winning isn’t everything and, while it beats the alternative, it’s certainly not the only thing.

Georgia Tech Volleyball split last weekend’s matches, yet they came into this week feeling like big winners, as if they’d won both. The team wasn’t being delusional. It wasn’t in denial.

The exhilarating five-set win on Friday over Syracuse, after spotting the Orange two sets, and the heart-breaking five-set loss to No. 9 North Carolina after taking the first two sets genuinely left the team feeling good.

“I think they were both fun in different ways,” said sophomore outside hitter Teegan Van Gunst. “Obviously, getting a `W’ in the fifth set Friday was more fun, especially the way that we did it, coming back from two down and showing how much heart we had to win. But, North Carolina coming into our gym, we wanted to show them what we’ve got, what we can do against them. That was also fun. We’re here to play. We’re here to have fun. We’re here to do well. See how we match up. Kudos to them that they [came back]. They were fun in different ways.”

Van Gunst, the team’s leader in kills with 3.57 per match (good for seventh in the ACC), had a huge Sunday, putting away a team- and career-high 27 kills against UNC, the team that ranks second in the conference in opposing hitting percentage, while adding 11 digs (she’s second on the team with 229, 2.66 per match). She believes that the team showed the kind of character and attitude that they’ve been looking for all season.

“We showed more composure after points that we didn’t win, close points that we didn’t win. Really having the mentality of focusing on the next ball, not the one that just happened,” she said. “Less focus on the past and more on what we can do with the next point to win, it was a consistency that we haven’t had in previous weekends. That’s really good.”

That resilience was especially obvious on Friday, when the Jackets, facing last-place Syracuse, found themselves down 0-2, having lost both sets, 25-23. But instead of folding the tents, the team bowed up defiantly, winning the next two sets, 25-11 and 25-20, to knot the match. They then won the fifth set, 15-10.

“I think it’s just confidence,” Van Gunst said. “Just gaining confidence with every game that we play and every time that we’re on the court with our teammates, more trust with each other and just wanting the games more. The new coaching staff has really helped. I think the biggest thing is just gaining confidence with every game that we play.”

They’re also playing for each other. That’s something they’ll do this week, when they travel to Notre Dame (5-16, 2-8) for only the second time ever and the first time since 1994 (an 0-3 loss). The match means a lot to sophomore middle blocker Lauren Pitz, a Carmel, Ind., native and freshman outside hitter Ashley Askin, whose parents both went to and competed for Notre Dame.

“I think it means a lot. I’m sure Lauren will have a lot of family there and Ashley, too,” Van Gunst said. “Obviously, they want to play well. We’re focusing on teammates. We can make this happen for them and not necessarily ourselves. Like we’ve been trying to do all season, focusing on our teammates and how we can make them look better and how we can help our teammates do better as a team, to achieve more.”

If the Jackets can continue building on last weekend’s momentum they can achieve quite a bit.

They have quite a bit of ground to make up in the ACC, as they begin this weekend 3-7 in conference play (10-13 overall), ranking 10th, but the remaining schedule is favorable. Only two of the eight teams they face (Miami, 14-6, 7-2, and Virginia, 13-9, 6-3), have conference winning records and only Clemson (15-7, 4-5) has a better record in ACC play than the Jackets.

“All the matches that we have left are wins that we can get,” said Van Gunst. “We have a really good chance to win as long as we take care of the ball on our side of the net. That’s really what we’ve been focusing on in practice the past week or two, focusing on our side of the net, how to gain confidence and control what we can control on our side of the net.

“I think last weekend was a step forward,” she added. “So Notre Dame, hopefully, is another step forward in the right direction and we can keep that momentum rolling for the rest of the season and finish pretty good in our conference.”

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