Win the ACC.
After finishing #2 in the conference last season, Georgia Tech volleyball sets their sights even higher. Despite being picked to finish 11th in the conference last season, a magical end-of-season run in conference play propelled the Jackets to a second-place finish behind Pitt for the ACC title with a 26-8 overall record. While the team hoped to make the NCAA tournament with their 39th ranked RPI, they were not selected by the selection committee and instead returned to the NIVC for the second year in a row. However, the Jackets dropped just one set all tournament and swept South Dakota in Vermillion to win the NIVC championship.
The team returns a significant portion of its starting lineup: all-ACC selections in Julia Bergmann, Mikaila Dowd, Mariana Brambilla, Kayla Kaiser, Maddie Tippett, and ACC Setter of the Year Matti McKissock all return, all as juniors or younger, suggesting significant development is possible.
The only departing starter is Kodie Comby, a notable hole in the lineup as one of the few senior leaders and the only senior who played regularly in 2019. Playing about half the points in a rotation with Kaiser, Comby was one of the most efficient hitters on the team, and her back set-to-spike play with McKissock, which regularly pulled fans out of their seats, will be one of the team’s biggest changes. Her ability to generate an excellent look and pull the defense for outside hitters off that play will be missed.
With those basics out of the way, here are four trends to keep an eye on as the season progresses:
Erin Moss – Heir Apparent to Comby?
Erin Moss returns to the team a year further into her development at Tech. She was a common piece of the team in the non-conference schedule in 2019, regularly receiving playing time, even in bigger non-conference matchups. Her role diminished significantly as the team started to roll into conference play. However, with Comby’s significant playing time and only two other Middle Blockers listed on the roster in Breland Morrissette and the aformentioned Kaiser, Moss will be expected to fill large shoes. Her development into a more efficient hitter will be crucial.
Rotating the Squad
Last year, the seven players listed in the introduction of this piece played significant minutes, especially in conference play. However, with a back-to-back game in each day competitively, and Michelle Collier’s penchant for playing underclassmen in early-season matchups, it’s certainly possible we see a larger variety of players this year. Senior Grace Rigsbee was often brought in as a defensive substitution when Collier would attempt to hold a lead late in sets, but the Rigsbee may get more looks offensively this year, particularly when Brambilla is not on the court. Senior Dominque Washington could also get looks, but the key figures we expect to see more of are the freshman.
Ohio native Isabella D’Amico might not see much playing time with Matti McKissock entrenched as the lead setter, but her talents should earn her some playing time, particularly when McKissock goes for coaching or for rest. It’s easy to forget, but one of Kodie Comby’s skills was short-term setter, particularly on defensive possessions. D’Amico may fill some of those minutes.
Savannah Ogle and Elizabeth Patterson round out the 2020 incoming class. Both will probably be used sparingly, although Ogle, an outside hitter, can probably expect more playing time. Patterson will likely have to contend with Tippett for defensive minutes, a challenge that seems unlikely given Tippett’s consistent appearance in the lineup from her first game.
Leadership on the Court
While there is little doubt this team will gel quickly on the court, the 2019 season faced a lot of adversity and many close matches. In those situations, it was easy to spot Kodie Comby making core, clutch plays. That responsibility now falls to the core of juniors and sophomores leading the team. While Maddie Tippett is widely considered to be the vocal leader of the team, it will be interesting to see who steps up in key moments and provides a lift for this team when it’s needed most. Expect McKissock to make a big difference here.
Mariana Brambilla – The Best Player in the ACC?
Tech has many great players, and with the team’s overall youth, it’s entirely possible that as many as four players could take a legitimately enormous leap this year. Julia Bergmann has a particularly large amount of room to become a more efficient hitter, often spiking the ball into double blocks.
However, Tech fans consistently notice the little decisions Mariana Brambilla makes to become highly efficient. An excellent defensive player, she is crafty at the net, forcing the defenders to guess at her next move. Although she does not have the physical size or strength of Bergmann, Brambilla is still highly athletic and can spike the ball incredibly well despite being on her off-side regularly for the first time. If she can continue to develop as a hitter, she could become an absolute force to be reckoned with and contend for the ACC POTY title.
Predictions for 2020
With no Pitt, Louisville, or Notre Dame on the schedule, Tech has a prime opportunity to put together an impressive short season record. A trip to Miami is followed up by the biggest series of the season at home against Florida State. To close out the season, matches at volleyball bottom feeder Wake Forest and home against inconsistent Clemson pose a potential 4-0 run. While this team has struggled in the past two seasons to start strong, with fewer matches and renewed focus on starting strong, this Georgia Tech team will come out of the gates strong. I am tempted to pick them to go undefeated, but knowing anything can happen and Florida State posing strong opposition, I will pick Georgia Tech to go 7-1 in their eight game schedule.
Game 1 @ Miami is scheduled for 6pm on Thursday, September 24. You can find the entire GT schedule here