#TGW: Diggin’ Deep
Libero London Ackermann stabilizing defense, catalyzing offense as Jackets face ACC home opening weekend
Up Next: Tonight: No. 10 North Carolina (10-2, 2-0), 7:00 p.m., O’Keefe Gym
Sunday: North Carolina State (8-6, 1-1), 1:00 p.m., O’Keefe Gym
In every sport there seems to be a facet of the game that gets overlooked statistically. In volleyball, that facet is the dig.
It’s one of those effort plays that isn’t necessarily glamorous but is something obviously lacking by teams that don’t do it well.
Georgia Tech (10-4, 1-1) digs better than any team in the ACC and is among the best in the nation -- their 939 total digs and 17.39 digs per set lead the ACC, with the latter ranking 12th in the nation.
Fittingly, the Yellow Jackets are led by senior libero/defensive specialist London Ackermann, who leads the ACC in both categories (257 total digs, 4.76 digs/set).
The Louisville, Ky., native’s superb talents in creating tremendous numbers in the oft-overlooked stat, will be on full display this weekend, ACC Home-Opening Weekend, in matches, Friday night against No. 10 North Carolina and Sunday afternoon against North Carolina State.
Ackermann doesn’t need actuarial approval to understand the importance of her job.
“There’s a lot of pressure on passing, serve-receive, and defense because it starts with you and if you can’t take care of your job then no one else can do theirs,” she said. “So it’s definitely a hard job but it’s very rewarding because you know that you are able to put someone else in a better position to then hopefully score a point. So it’s rewarding in that way.”
Coming up big at libero became London’s role, primarily because she was considered not tall enough. The position soon became her passion thanks to a local Louisville volleyball hero.
“I started playing [volleyball] when I was six and I was actually kind of tall then, but I didn’t grow until I was like 14 or 15 years old so I was very small so it was like my only option,” she said, with a laugh. “I really found out that I loved it because I played under Sarah Drury. She was actually a local libero and played for the U.S. National Team. She really showed me the love for defense and just being proud of it and it being a part of who you are, a go-getter mindset. Her influence really inspired me to want to be a libero.”
That passion has put her third in Georgia Tech history in digs -- she enters the weekend with 1,515 digs, 80 away from setting a school career-record, currently held by Jenn Beemsterboer (1987-90).
Reaching the record is not something Ackermann thinks about.
“It’s real exciting but I wouldn’t say that’s my main focus by any means,” she said. “I think just playing each game as consistently as I can possibly be and whatever happens, happens. At the end of the day I’m looking for a ‘W’ and a team win. So the individual accomplishments are always cool but it’s not something that I think about on an everyday basis.
“I didn’t even know it really until I started seeing [Assistant Director Communications and Public Relations Lauren] Rupert’s post in the beginning of the season,” she added. “I think that’s something that every kid dreams of but I’d have never thought about that coming into college, that that could even be potential in my future. It’s always your goal to play the best that you possibly can but reaching that would be really cool if I can and I’m very excited and, like I said before, winning is my biggest priority right now with my teammates and making the most of this season.”
This weekend’s matches can go a long way in making the Yellow Jackets’ season. Friday’s ACC home opener is always a big match.
“It’s very exciting,” said head coach Michelle Collier, who makes her third conference debut, -- she’s 1-1, losing to No. 5 Florida State, 3-0, in 2014 and beating Boston College, 3-2 last season. “We’ve only played three matches at home so I know that we’re ready to come back and compete on our home court. Playing a team like North Carolina is going to add a little more excitement to the opportunity to our home opener. We’re definitely looking forward to it.”
Tech split a similar weekend last year, falling 3-1 to the Tar Heels, against whom they are 25-35 all-time but 15-13 all-time at O’Keefe -- they have dropped seven of eight and back-to-back meetings at home -- then bouncing back to sweep out the Wolfpack -- they’re 40-18 overall, 21-7 all-time at O’Keefe, 13-1 in the last 14 home matches.
All three teams are playing well coming into the weekend.
The Jackets have won seven of eight, splitting a pair of 3-1 decisions last weekend in their ACC Opener -- falling at Pittsburgh then winning at Virginia Tech, where they had lost three of four. The Tar Heels have won four of five, including a pair of five-set wins last weekend at NC State and Boston College. The Wolfpack heads into the weekend 1-1 in ACC play, losing in five to UNC then sweeping Syracuse (they visit Clemson on Friday).
Collier is paying closer attention to current trends rather than those of the past.
“We definitely understand the level in the ACC is very competitive,” she said. “We know that we can beat any team in this conference. So we’re excited for the opportunity to come out and play some good volleyball Friday night.
“I don’t think there’s an edge at all [with NC State],” she added. “They’re very capable of playing at a high level. It’s a new coaching staff and I know that they have brought in some good things to that program and a new mentality. NC State is not the same team that it was last year. They’re playing with confidence that have had some really good wins this season and I think they’re looking forward to the opportunity of playing us here.”
Ackermann, who is playing her final ACC home opener, is eager to taste some home-cooking, as the Jackets have played only three of their 14 matches at home, while giving the ‘Heels and ‘Pack a taste of the O’Keefe crowd.
“It’s very exciting. Playing a top-25 team is also very exciting. We have a lot of respect for UNC and NC State and we’re really excited to have our home crowd here,” she said. “In the ACC there’s not really a team out there that’s not competitive so it’s going to be back to being consistent in everything that we do and staying together.”
There may not be a player on the Jackets that knows how to do both better than Ackermann.
“London has put up the numbers day in and day out and I think one of her biggest qualities is she’s consistent with her work and with her energy and the things that she can bring on the court,” Collier said. “She’s somebody that we trust, that a lot of time we’re setting up our defensive system, so that we’re channeling balls to her and she’s executing those systems. It’s working out great for us.”