The Good Word | by Jon Cooper
Michelle Collier isn’t one to dwell on milestones, especially hers.
Just try coaxing a remark from Georgia Tech Volleyball’s head coach on her playing career as South Florida’s all-time leader in kills by more than 900 and digs by nearly 300 (she’s also second in aces) and holder of the top four and seven of the top 10 kills.
Or try getting her to talk about her role in the 40-game swing (10-24 to 30-4) her University of Jacksonville Dolphins made from year one to year two.
It’s little wonder, then, that Collier didn’t revel in win No. 100 at Georgia Tech for very long. By Monday afternoon, she’d already put Sunday afternoon’s 3-0 sweep of Miami, the sixth straight — also a program record, by the way — in the rearview mirror. In fact, she took the bare minimum of credit.
“It’s awesome. I’m very grateful for it, of course, but I haven’t played one point of those 100 wins,” said Collier of becoming only the third coach in program history to reach the 100-wins plateau, joining Shelton Collier and Bond Shymansky. “It was all my players. I have a great staff around me. I have had great staff around me in the past, as well. We talk to the players all the time that this is their legacy, their program. They’re the ones putting in all the blood, sweat and tears all the time. I didn’t get one win. They did.
“I’m very proud of the whole program and the players that have been here, my support staff, everybody,” she added. “This place has been very supportive of our vision and what we want to get. The 100 is just a milestone. It’s on the way of getting to what we want. I’m happy for it, it’s definitely important for my career as I’m building my career here and I want do big things with what I do. So it’s an important thing, but it’s definitely not on me. It’s on the players that have been a part of this. They have done a great job representing this program.”
Collier, who needed 180 matches to notch No. 100 — Shymansky got there fastest, needing 123, Shelton Collier is next, at 139 — is proud to be in the club and credits her club mates as inspiration in getting the program to where it is.
“Shelton and Bond did great things here at Tech. Because of what they did is why I know my vision is possible,” she said. “We want to bring Georgia Tech back to winning championships and going deep in the NCAA Tournament. Those were things that Bond and Shelton were able to do here. That is what made me believe that we can accomplish our vision here and I have no doubt that we’ll get there as well.”
No. 100 overshadowed another historic number accomplished on Sunday, No. 6, the number of consecutive sweeps by the Jackets (14-7, 7-3) in their current run. They’ve recorded straight-set W’s against conference foes like Duke, against whom they were 3-14 in the last 17 matches, Florida State and Miami. The Jackets hadn’t exorcised the Blue Devils in straight sets since Nov. 6, 2015 and before that Nov. 5, 2004, hadn’t swept the Seminoles since Oct. 10, 2010, and hadn’t done so at home since Oct. 3, 2008, and hadn’t blown away the ‘Canes in straight sets since Oct. 30, 2004, the first meeting between the schools.
When they take the floor of Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill on Friday night to take on North Carolina (10-10, 7-3) — both are part of a four-way tie for fourth in the ACC — it will have been 26 days since they last dropped a set!
“Numbers are always fun but they’re definitely not something that I focus on myself,” Collier said. “A win is a win, whether it’s a five-setter by two points or it’s a three-setter the way that we did this past weekend. Those are solid programs that have been very strong in our conference and nationally throughout the years so it’s a reflection on where we’re going, it’s a reflection on the volleyball we’re playing and it’s a reflection on the things we want to do with this program. Probably the biggest lesson that we take is that we CAN compete with those programs and we will and our goal is to be doing that on a consistent basis. We don’t want it to be another 10 years from now when we do what we were able to do this weekend.”
Collier admits she didn’t see the six-match sweep streak coming — it came on the heels of a season-high three-match losing streak (to Boston College, at Louisville and at Notre Dame) — but, at the same time, says she didn’t see it coming completely out of the blue.
“Even in those losses, we left those matches knowing there were a lot of things that we could do better and if we did those things better we could compete with anybody,” she said. “That has been the feeling throughout the whole season. That has been our goal and our mindset every time that we come into the gym. ‘Hey, we have a good group here. We have some talent in our hand.’ It’s a group that’s bought in — not only the players that are playing but all 19 of our players have really bought into making each other better and pushing the person next to them. We kept saying, ‘Hey, let’s focus on practice. Let’s focus on getting better and when we get a chance to go out there and compete again we’ll see what happens and we’ll try to put ourselves there.’”
Where the Jackets have put themselves is in a good place mentally and it’s showing up on the court.
“We kept talking about a change in mindset, the way that we needed to focus, the way we needed to execute,” Collier said. “It looks like something clicked in their minds. We’re taking care of the ball, we’re playing as a team, all our hitters are involved, we’re really taking care of our defense, our blocking has gotten better, our serving has gotten better, everything has gotten to the next level. We’re playing with some confidence. So it’s fun.”
The team is right where Collier hoped it would be but hasn’t yet arrived where she ultimately wants it to go.
“That has always been the vision from day one. We’ve been taking smaller steps but building the right foundation with this program,” she said. “I didn’t just want to come here and have a great year. We’re trying to build something that’s very sustainable here. When we get to the NCAA Tournament and we get to win an ACC Championship, those are things that we’re going to continue to do over and over and put ourselves at a level that we’re not just going in and out of that. We’re finding the right pieces of the puzzle to put together and it’s been fun to see all that come together even sooner than we expected. So it’s nice.”
“Nice” is nice but there is more and the journey continues day by day, step by step.
“We’re going to keep focusing on ‘One day at a time, because it’s one thing to get there. It gets even harder when you have expectations and people are expecting you to win and do better against certain teams,” Collier said. “That will be the next level of experience that this group is going to have to have.
“They’re earning that by their results and by the way they’re playing volleyball but it’s still a growing stage here,” she continued. “We’re still not where we want to be but we’re going to continue to evolve throughout the season. We have to learn to do things over and over and over, rather than just doing things one time. We want this to be a sustainable thing so we’ve got to make sure we’re sending that message to our players and they understand that, ‘Hey, we’re not there yet. We’re closer and we’re moving in the right direction but we’ve got to keep working.’”