#TGW: Digging In
Libero London Ackermann’s defense, effort adding up in Georgia Tech's climb up the ACC ladder
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
An important part of learning how to win is finding the ability to get up off the floor and get back in the fight.
It’s a lesson in which London Ackermann is well-versed as Georgia Tech’s junior libero does so at least once in just about every point of every match.
Then, again, that’s the nature of the defensive specialist, whose primary role is digging the ball off opposing spikes and dinks, keeping plays alive so setters and hitters can counter-attack.
As with most defensive positions, Libero/DS is a role that requires self-motivation and effort. In that regard Ackermann perfectly fits the bill, as she is plenty motivated.
“Being a defensive player you have to realize It’s something that if you set personal goals it helps you stay focused,” she said. “In every match I go into I want to get at least five digs per set. Hopefully that will build up in the long run. Competing across the ACC is kind of cool, trying to see how many digs you can get compared to other teams. But overall it goes back to the team aspect and how many digs I can get for everyone else to make sure that we can win, which is the overall goal.”
Heading into Georgia Tech’s (13-7, 4-4) White Out match Friday night against North Carolina (9-8, 6-2) at O’Keefe Gym, (a 7 p.m. start -- the match can be seen on ESPN3), the Louisville, Ky., native ranks third in the ACC in digs (324 in 73 sets) and fifth in digs per set (4.44). The digs per set are up from the 3.70 last season, while her 389 total should fall, possibly within the next two weeks. Ackermann already has 18 double-digit-digs matches (out of 20), and five 20-plus-digs matches, both one off last season’s totals.
All this digging is adding up to her cracking the school’s top 10, something from which she sits 175 digs away or 14.5 per match.
It’s not necessarily glamorous work, but is appreciated.
“Defensively we’re definitely a better team than we were last year,” said Head Coach Michelle Collier. “She’s been a big part that. It’s nice to be able to transfer that over to a team setting as well because we are doing the things that we need to do defensively as a team. She’s been great for us all year.”
“I’m proud of her and what she’s doing for our program defensively,” added junior outside hitter Teegan Van Gunst. “[We have] a lot more confidence because we don’t feel like we need to cover more area, that she’s going to take care of her job, passing, defensively, setting. We trust her with the role that she plays. So it definitely makes our jobs defensively a lot easier.”
Ackermann’s blue-collar approach to the game, her self-motivation and unselfishness made it extra-satisfying for the team to see her record her 1,000th career dig. The milestone was icing on the cake of the Sept. 27 match against Boston College, a dramatic 3-2 win at O’Keefe, in which the Jackets spotted the Eagles the first two sets before roaring back to win.
“[The 1,000th dig] was definitely exciting, especially since it’s been years since someone’s gotten that,” said Van Gunst. “As a team we were all excited for her. I didn’t know that she was that close until she got it.”
“It was very exciting,” said Ackermann, who became the first Yellow Jacket to get to 1,000 digs since Jordan McCullers reached it five years ago. “I honestly didn’t know I was near that until I saw an infographic before the game that I was 13 digs away. Once I hit it I was pretty excited and I know my family was excited. So it was cool to share that experience with them and my teammates.”
The milestone isn’t all Ackermann shares with her teammates. She shares her drive and work ethic with the team every day. The example she’s set has inspired others to follow.
“She definitely plays a big role for us,” said Van Gunst. “Not just how she goes after it, but her voice on the court is also a big asset to our team.”
As Ackermann continues to improve, so do the Jackets defensively. They rank third in the conference in digs (15.59 per set, behind only Duke and ACC-leading Louisville). Collier believes her improvement and the team’s go hand-in-hand.
“That was one of the things we’ve talked about,” said Collier. “We said, ‘Let’s focus and let’s make sure we’re doing those things better.’ We take pride in that and we’ve worked hard on that and we’re definitely executing better. I think we put a lot of emphasis on our defense.
“I think London is doing great,” she added. “Any time you get those individual awards they has to reflect back on the team,” said Collier. “We’re blocking better, we’re serving better. She’s getting more digs. We’re making her a better player. That has always been the mindset here. We work collectively.”
With 12 matches left in the season heading into the weekend, the Jackets collectively are looking to continue to grow. They’ve already matched last season’s win total, have surpassed their total for road wins and are only two wins shy from matching last year’s conference wins. With six of their matches against sub-.500 teams, 20 wins is possible, as is a .500-or-better finish in ACC play and maybe even a place in the top five of the ACC.
Ackermann, who also serves at a team-best .980 percentage and is tied for third on the team with 10 service aces, isn’t look any further ahead than Friday night’s match with the Tar Heels -- Tech also hosts NC State on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. -- but likes the direction the team is heading and the way it’s grinding it out on a daily basis.
“I believe that it’s all in our preparation,” she said. “I think we prepare very well in practice. It’s us coming together and competing at a high level. Executing on the easy stuff is really going to help us throughout these matches and just making sure that we take care of easy balls first. Just knowing that we’re confident in what we do on a day-to-day basis and executing that. If we can keep that focus then the results should be good.”