HAMBURG, GERMANY - The Yellow Jacket sports season is done for the academic year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep talking about it. After taking a run at Cross Country last week, Yellow Jacket Roundup is set to match up with Women’s Volleyball. Yet another blast from the past, but their season is right around the corner, as well. Before we know it, the year starts anew with football, cross country, and, of course, volleyball.
Before we look at the program, I need to ask something of you, dear readers. Have you ever been to a volleyball game?
Have you ever been to a Georgia Tech Volleyball game?
This poll is closed
What is this "volleyball?"
This is an important question, at least for the thought exercise. And here’s why:
Georgia Tech women’s volleyball games are probably the most exciting, underrated, and affordable way to spend an evening on the Flats, bar none.
Though Tech had a middling season last fall, having to replace the titanic Van Gunst sisters, they weren’t terrible and showed signs of breakthrough, taking down a couple well-regarded and ranked teams over the course of the season. As always, though, O’Keefe Gymnasium was an electric place to watch a game. Each home match, which are usually filled to capacity thanks to the venue’s smaller size, fans are engaged and the atmosphere intoxicating. Tech’s marching band supplies a pep band. Of course, when the place is packed, and trust me, it does sell out, the old-school feel is the closest I’ve seen to the high-energy gyms of Indiana high school hoops, as unexpected as that comparison may sound. It’s supposed to be high praise. Let’s roll with it.
Anyways, the Tech women are fun to watch and the venue itself contributes to the great ambiance. The sight lines are great, and it’s well worth the trip and the cost to see a game. If you’re only in town for one weekend, try to catch one. For example, there’s been games on homecoming weekend in the past, making for a one-two Tech sports combination that’s tough to beat, especially when you start Friday evening at the Mini 500 and hit the Wreck Parade Saturday morning, too. Of course, it’s highly possible the dates line up for other weekends, too. Swing past O’Keefe and catch a match.
Match attendance aside, the state of the program is promising, too. The Atlantic Coast Conference has a very tightly packed middle section of competitive teams. Tech finished just tenth in a sport that fields enties from all fifteen non-football members, at 8-12 in conference play and 13-18 overall. However, a four game improvement would have vaulted the Jackets all the way to fifth, as they lost their share of heartbreakers to the teams right in their neighborhood. Had a couple spikes bounced differently, perhaps the Jackets are looking at a winning conference record. Since the conference doesn’t have a tournament, the regular season champion gets the automatic qualifier for the Big Dance, and the Jackets sub-.500 season saw them out of the postseason altogether yet again. Tech was slighted the year before when they finished a stellar 15-5 in conference play and 24-8 overall, good for fourth in the conference. After losing some key talent, it was a rebuilding year, if you will, but missing the playoffs again is no fun, either.
Coach Michelle Collier is entering her fourth year on the Flats, which means this is the first season she will coach a team made up entirely of players she recruited, an interesting test. She coaxed a team of second-division dwellers to marginal improvement her first year, and then rocketed up to join the class of the conference the next. She has been getting invites to tournaments with solid teams, which was part of the reason our out-of-conference record dipped last year - we all know the importance of taking some quality losses. Jokes aside, it’s good to challenge the players, and her younger athletes got good experience last year against quality teams. To boot, the Jackets notched their first win over a ranked team since 2013 when they defeated then-no. 17 Michigan State early in the season. Finishing 121st in RPI stings, but the Jackets should see improvement on that mark this year.
Her somewhat large, but acclaimed recruiting class, which inlcudes eight incoming freshman, received highest praise from volleyball recruiting outlets. More importantly, there are several returning veterans to keep an eye on. Eleven Tech players return, including six that were critical to the rotation last fall. Three sophomores; Grace Rigsbee, Cori Clifton, and Sam Knapp; two juniors, Emily Becker and Kodie Comby; and senior Lauren Frerking had solid seasons last year and all return for the Jackets. Though that is an inordinate amount of freshmen to take in, as a group, they are quite distinguished. The only one I could speak with anything close to resembling knowledge on is Mikaila Dowd from Metea Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois, and Sports Performance Volleyball Club. Even then, only to say that she was a good player on a team that took a tough break in a competitive sectional tournament in the highest classification of Illinois volleyball last fall. So, I can’t say much, but she sounds like a good prospect, at least. Also, Sports Performance called us the “University of Georgia Tech” in her commitment announcement, so that’s fun.
Anyways, Collier put it best, but here, the program is on an upward trend and the future is bright. She is bringing in yet another solid recruiting class and her players have grown a lot over the past few seasons. Last year was bumpy, at times, including a three game skid to end the season, but that’s part of building a team with character. Learning from mistakes is why we play and watch the games like we do. If everything worked out as expected, what’s the fun in that? So head on down to O’Keefe and grab a seat on the bleachers. There’s a new video board, sure, but still the same passionate coach storming around the sidelines, and the same gritty determination from her players, week in and week out.
Coming up next week: Men’s Tennis
Stay tuned for more investigation into the state of non-revenue sports, mild soapbox editorializing, and, hopefully, some productive discourse to get us through the summer. As always, fell free to leave any questions, comments, and feedback below.