The Good Word | By Jon Cooper
Momentum can be hard to get ahold of and even harder to hold on to, but once you’ve got it, there’s nothing like it and there’s no stopping it.
Georgia Tech volleyball has momentum right now.
The team ran on it all last weekend, knocking off Xavier (3-1), North Florida (3-0) and Kansas State (3-2) in the Georgia Tech Invitational. It was nice to see the momentum back on their sideline after it had been a no-show the previous weekend out in San Diego.
“It was good to see how we were able to bounce back from a really tough weekend in California,” said head coach Michelle Collier. “I think that the team is understanding the concept of growth and that every opportunity we get to be on the court we get to be better. I think we all believe in the level that we can play. We’re working towards that. We’re working towards maximizing what we have with this group right now.”
Georgia Tech (5-5) is looking to continue that growing process on Friday, when it travels to Athens to play in-state Georgia (9-3) and close out its non-conference schedule.
“I’m excited to play in Athens,” said senior middle blocker Sydney Wilson, who was MVP of the Georgia Tech Invitational, after hitting .526, including a career-best .636 against North Florida, with 21 kills, one attack error and 12 total kills in the tournament. “It would have been pretty cool to play at home but playing Georgia one last time before graduation is always fun and exciting.”
Playing at the Ramsey Student Center hasn’t been bad for Georgia Tech, either. The Jackets are riding a four-match winning streak there and have won seven of the last eight. It’s part of Georgia Tech dominating run which has seen it win nine of the last 10 meetings against the Bulldogs and 16 of 18.
Collier, who is 2-1 against the Bulldogs, 1-0 in Athens, preferred to focus on the confidence the recent wins should give her team.
“We have to go in there with the confidence and understanding that we have won there plenty of times so there’s got to be some comfort in that but we also know that every year it’s a different story,” she said. “So just because we’ve gone there and won four straight times it doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same. We’re ready for this match, this 2017 Georgia Tech-Georgia story.
“They have to show up and play and do their best, whenever, whoever, whatever is on that other side,” she said. “(Georgia’s) playing well, they’re 9-3, they’ve been playing some good people, they’ve been playing well at home, so it’s going to be interesting. It’s always a special match. It’s whichever team is more composed and able to kind of fight those emotions and excitement from the beginning.”
Georgia Tech fields seven freshmen, but the septet has stepped up, showing great poise and maturity.
“I think that a lot of the freshmen that are playing are really good at staying calm and composed in high-pressure situations,” said Wilson. “Honestly, playing at home may be more nerve-wracking than at Georgia. I feel like our fans are a lot more vocal than Georgia’s fans so if they can play here they can definitely play in Athens.”
Libero/defensive specialist Sam Knapp is one of those freshman. In taking over for London Ackermann, the program’s all-time career digs leader, Knapp has recorded double-digit digs in four straight matches (61 in the streak), and six overall. She can’t wait for her first taste of the storied rivalry.
“It’s pressure but I like pressure and I think that this will be a really good challenge for us,” she said. “They have a new coach and they’re working hard. They’re a really good team, they play fast. I think environment in Athens will be really intense. It will help our team play at a higher level.”
Knapp expects the Bulldogs to use Tech’s success as motivation.
“You know they’re going to be fighting. They’re going to be like, ‘We’re sick of this streak of them winning.’ So they’re going to be going after it,’” she said. “When a team goes after it and they want to beat you it makes me want to beat them 10 times more. It’s just a greater intensity.”
The more intensity the better for the Jackets, as Georgia not only has not dropped a match in their four home tilts thus far in 2017, they haven’t even lost a set. They rank second in the SEC in hitting and lead the conference in service aces.
Collier feels serving could be a determining factor in the match.
“They’re definitely serving tough. I think that’s one of the biggest things that they've improved and they’re defending well,” she said. “That stuff kind of goes together. I think that's one of the things that we’ve done well in the matches that we have competed at our best. So it’s going to start from that service line on both sides, everybody trying to put some pressure on. Probably what they’re going to try to do is put pressure on Gabi (Stavnetchei) and Ashley (Askin), who are a big part of our offense. We’ll do the same with their outsides and try to put some pressure on them with our serve.
“Defense has been something that we have been able to do well in the matches that we’ve played,” she added. “We’re going to have to bring some energy and some resilience out to the court to be able to fight it out because they’re going to be ready for us. We’ll be ready too. It should be a fun match.”
Tech defensively has shown the ability to get stronger as matches goes on. The hitting percentages of Xavier, North Florida and Kansas State all went down as the match proceeded with all three hitting in the .100’s or lower in what was the final set.
“We definitely have been able to get more and more comfortable every set with how we put teams in situations where they’re not being very successful in what works for them,” said Collier. “Our players are doing a really good job responding to feedback in what we need to stop, how we need to adjust and being able to apply that within matches. We’re getting better and better as the matches progress.”
“After the game, people will say, ‘You guys wore them down,’” said Wilson. “Our intention is to start strong finish strong. That tactic has been working.”
Knapp believes the same mentality that carried the team to Georgia Tech Invitational success will continue to carry over.
“I think the weekend in San Diego definitely helped us grow,” she said. “They were high-ranked teams and each time we got on the court we grew as a team, got better together. We came back for the week, did extra reps and really learned. When it came the weekend we were like, ‘We’re sick of losing. We need to win. We’re at home. We need to defend our court.’ After the first win we were like, ‘That’s such a great feeling, let’s do it again.’ Then, K-State, when it was 2-2, we were like, ‘Guys, this is it. We need to go all out to go 3-0 this weekend.’ It was a great feeling.”
It’s a feeling Knapp really wants for the seniors, to send them off as winners against Georgia.
“I would do anything for them,” she said. “They’re the best. We’ve got to go out there and win.”