Tech hosted the school out east in their opening match of the Georgia Tech Classic Friday night at the O’Keefe Gymnasium. The sold-out, raucous crowd packed every open inch of the stands as the Jackets looked to take their third victory in a row across all sports, and seventeenth in the last twenty tries in volleyball, against their rivals from the Southeastern Conference. It just means more.
At about 8:15pm, savoring the addictive and electric atmosphere seemingly ready to tear the roof off of the old gymnasium, it was noted the game was moving quickly in the third set, with the Jackets up two sets to none and cruising right along. It would be a shame to end such a fun evening on the Flats so early. Fast forward ninety minutes later to match point, and the sentiment was similar, but different: great night, but just end the game, once and for all. So how did Tech get from a two sets to none advantage to a neck-and-neck finish in the fifth set?
Friday, September 14th: Georgia Tech (10 - 2) downs the school in Athens (8 - 2), 25-20, 25-21, 18-25, 13-25, 15-12 (3 - 2).
Tech leads 1 - 0 (25-20) and attacks at a .237 rate
Before the game even started, the crowd was into the game. Billed not only as the annual edition of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate on the court, but as a whiteout as well, the match, which traditionally draws well, was sold out before daybreak on Friday was even a glimmer on the horizon. The line for students angling to secure a seat for the match was deep into the O’Keefe parking lot when entry was cut off due to reaching maximum capacity. Inside the building, the crowd was, as it always is at volleyball games, loud and proud, amped up and ready to go. Clean, Old Fashioned Hate always brings out an extra dimension to the already entrancing atmosphere in O’Keefe.
The early play was close - neither team was able to draw too far in front of the other. The Jackets trailed 11-10 before rattling off the first extended lead of the game at 14-11 at the first break in play. The timeout by the visitors was ill-used, though, and the Jackets continued on their merry way, tacking more points onto their score. The house was rocking now, for sure, if it wasn’t already beforehand. The opponents brought the score within three after the Jackets seemed to take control of the set at 22-16. Kodie Comby was excellent at the net all night when she was in, and she was all over the two blocks that sealed the first set for the Jackets. The set featured excellent play from Comby, Mariana Brambilla, and Mikaila Dowd, almost expected by now, as well as good service from senior Lauren Frerking and good setting from the defensive specialist Maddie Tippett, something that often goes unsaid by this intrepid non-revenue writer but is undoubtably a critical part of this team’s success so far this year.
Tech leads 2 - 0 (25-21) and attacks at a .370 rate
It would be a shame not to make note of the excellent base of support that the Jackets saw tonight in the stands. Of course, there were the expected opposing fans and some entire club teams just in for a fun night of volleyball, but the alumni turned out well to support the team, as did the students, the band and Reck Club, as usual. However, it was most notable that the almost the entire baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, and swimming and diving teams made an appearance to support the volleyball team as well. The baseball team was especially impactful, pestering the visitors at the line of service mercilessly in the first and third sets, especially #7 from the opposition, Rachel Ritchie. It is always heartening to see a strong showing from the varsity teams at sports other than their own, most notably with football doing an exceptional job of this when they are in town, and, of course, it was also nice that the swimmers booted a bunch of red and black-donned North Carolina State players out of the front row at center court when they plopped down in a reserved row following their earlier game against Arkansas.
Anyways, the second set began eerily similar to the first. Tech was able, once again, to both force and capitalize on the other team’s mistakes, and the one-two combination of Dowd and Brambilla showed once again that there is plenty to be excited for in the next four years of that pairing on the Flats. Once again the set found itself tied at eleven, even though this time Tech had jumped right out to a more sizable lead. Tech led 17-15 after scoring three straight points and the opposition called their first timeout. It didn’t work. Tech stayed in front, forcing the opposition again to attempt to stall Tech’s momentum another time with the Jackets in front 20-17. Tech kept building its lead, though, up to 22-17, before the visitors had an answer. Though it came closer, again, Tech was able to put it away and a kill from Dowd ended the second set with the Jackets ahead by four.
Tech leads 2 - 1 (18-25) and attacks at a .061 rate
It was early in this set when two things happened: the crowd started to run out of gas as the temperature went up and the clock marched the match into the heart of its second hour - O’Keefe is frightening to be a visitor in, especially in a packed house, when the crowd is keyed into the game, but more like a generic high school gym without it - and Tech’s crispness seemed to waffle as calls started not going their way. Tech came out sluggish and trailed early, only to mount a comeback and tie the score at 7-7. This was at approximately 8:15. However, a ghastly 8-0 run in favor of the visitors, featuring not one but multiple questionable calls, put the opposition ahead 15-7. It didn’t get much better from there.
The match is tied 2 - 2 (13-25) and attacks at a .038 rate
By now, it was clear to that every serve was headed straight for Brambilla and the Jackets struggled to adapt. The story was the same as the second half of the third set. The Jackets didn’t catch the breaks, be they from service errors, bounces, or calls from the referees, that they did in the first two sets, and their attack was not anywhere close to what it had been earlier. They fell quickly in the fourth set.
Tech wins 3 - 2 (15-12) and attacks at a .214 rate
The fifth set was close. The Jackets got on the board first and would have taken a bigger lead, were it not for a close call down the line. Tech stayed slightly ahead for the most part until the visitors tied it at 6-6. Somewhere between the start of the fifth set and this tie, the crowd found its heart again. Tech took two in a row and though the guests managed to eke out another tie at nine, they never took the lead. Again, Tech took two points out of the tie to take an 11-9 advantage. For the third time, the opposition tied the match, this time at twelve. Comby and Dowd squelched any hope the visitors had left and the crowd jeered them out the door.
This was, all in all, an electric game that lived up to the ridiculous billing this site gave it. The crowd was outstanding, with cheers old and new making appearances, and the 1,200 spectators played their not-insignificant role in the victory. Truly things like this make O’Keefe Gymnasium one of the strongest home field advantages in the conference. The team, for their part, pulled out a gutty win that was, if anything, also a character-building one for this still-young team. It was, as expected, worth the time and emotional effort. Volleyball is always a thrill, and attendance, especially to watch this year’s team in particular, is highly recommended.
Up Next: The Jackets take on the Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday at 4:00pm in their final game in the Georgia Tech Classic at the O’Keefe Gymnasium.