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Yellow Jacket Roundup: Thursday Night Done Right

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Even before considering the weekend’s events, this is truly a memorable week for Tech athletics.

A unique team look courtesy of the always-excellent Danny Karnik. I don’t shout him out enough, but his images are integral to this column.
Danny Karnik / Georgia Tech Athletics

ATLANTA, GEORGIA — I think I can speak for all Tech fans that over the past few weeks, the never-ending onslaught of the news has been particularly exhausting. There have been some rather great things, sure, but terrible news, too, or even things that seem stuck in the middle — things that bring change that just leads to more turnover.

This column, which aims to discuss non-revenue sports and the athletic department in a holistic manner, is not the right place to discuss a lot of the events of the past few weeks. I defer to the articles and columns that give those items the focus, insight, and expertise they are due, but it is worth acknowledging that if you, reader, are tired by all of it, you are not by any means alone in feeling that way. It seems each day brings new things to celebrate and acknowledge, to discuss and mourn. Heck, things have so busy that we completely forgot to discuss the opening of the indoor track season last week. Of course, we will dive into that today.

Though standing on the far side of the weekend, it can become easy to already see fog forming around the memories of Thursday, what with the events on and off the field or court that have happened since, it is important to recognize that day as one that will live on in memory and be referenced certainly for decades in the annals of not just one, but two of Tech’s great teams. For one, volleyball, it marked the crowning achievement of what is almost certainly the most storied season in the history of the program, or at the very least tied for it. Sure, other teams have won the ACC regular season or tournament, back when that existed, but this year’s team likely could have beaten every pre-expansion ACC champion, as the conference has made tremendous strides in the sport since 2013. 2003’s edition also made the Elite Eight, but none had to this point notched a win over over a top three team, which Tech did on the road when they defeated #2 Pittsburgh. Sure, one could point to the win-loss record, as Tech finished 26-6, with eight fewer wins and two more losses than that 2003 team, and five other past teams finished with more wins and three of those additional teams met or exceeded the daunting thirty win threshold. However, only that 2003 team lost fewer games, dropping four, with the 2002 team matching it — clearly, it was a weird scheduling year, with a shorter slate than past pre-pandemic years.

Seeing as this is rapidly becoming a volleyball-specific season recap, I will attempt to continue swiftly to the point — a trait this column has notoriously mixed success with — but the fact of the matter is Tech went 1-4 against teams in the top three this year. To this point, it had been 0-7 against top three teams in the entire forty-one season history of the program prior to fall 2021. Tech nearly doubled its historic total number of games against the best team in the country in a single season, got the best win in program history by winning one of them on the road, spent nearly the entire year in the top 10 of the RPI and Massey ratings, against what is certainly the most challenging schedule they’ve ever played, and still had massive success enough to host the opening weekend of the Big Dance. Then, they went on the road to a hostile crowd, the largest one they’ve experienced in their college careers, and took a set from the team that, to this point, has been unquestionably the best one in the country, for the first time in five years, and gave about as close of a contest as one could dream up against those stakes.

We haven’t even mentioned women’s basketball yet, which capitalized on their upset of their archrivals in Athens last week to turn around and beat an admittedly-shorthanded UConn team that has defined success not only in women’s basketball, but team sports as a whole, over the last quarter of a century. This is a UConn team that, even considering context, is still one of the top three teams in the country, and that Tech was able to give more than they could handle for forty minutes. It was, undoubtedly, a success and a game that can define a program for years. There’s a heck of a lot of season left to build on it, too.

All of this isn’t to minimize the rest of the swirling currents inside and outside the confines of Marietta, Tenth, West Peachtree, and North Avenue. Those gales have been blowing for weeks. When the dust settles and the winds die down, as they eventually will, there will be plenty to look back on. At least in the world of non-revenue sports, there will be things to look back upon on fondly.

I am quite sure we will be doing just that for quite some time.


Presenting this week’s RECC Rating, with the caveat that the updates are done midweek, i.e. before UConn/Tech, and that swim and dive were off this week while other programs wrapped up their midseason taper meets, so there was a lot of shakeup in the country’s top swims. For everything else, well, check out the attached graphs for the gist of things.

Compiled and Coded by Jake Grant
Compiled and Coded by Jake Grant

Volleyball

Overall: 26-6 / Last Week: 1-1
Polls - AVCA Coaches: 13
Nerd Stuff - RPI: 7 | Massey: 13

Sadly, all good things must come to an end at some point or another, and, after a season of tremendous entertainment and success, the volleyball season drew to a close on Saturday with a loss to Louisville. Of course, having read the rambling introduction to this column, that much has already become clear. However, it is certainly worth noting the tremendous accomplishments that were accrued along the way.

First and foremost in discussion is the excellent win against a top ten Ohio State team on Thursday afternoon. Tech had been rated above the Buckeyes all year in RPI, though their opponents had received higher accolades from the coaches in the AVCA poll. Tech, for their part, certainly proved the numbers right, though, as they were able to dispatch Ohio State in a three set sweep, their fifth in a row and sixteenth of the season.

Match Game Flow Plot via Akshay Easwaran

As illustrated by the plot via our own Akshay Easwaran, the Jackets were able to work effectively in a variety of match scenarios against the Buckeyes. In the first set, Tech generally led for a small amount, but a fairly consistent margin, throughout the set. Contrastingly, the second set featured long swaths of gameplay with Ohio State in the driver’s seat. Note that phase from a 5-3 Tech advantage in the second set to a 10-8 Ohio State lead, as that would be remarkably similar to how Louisville would attack Tech, in a general game flow sense of the term. Tech, as noted, was able rally despite trailing late to take the set, and forced extra volleyball with a 24-24 tie before scoring their second and third straight points to take the set. In the third, though, Tech played their most complete volleyball of the day, and the Buckeyes never got within a handful of points after the score was knotted at three points apiece.

The relative dominance of the third set is confirmed by the sideout percentage and the attack percentage, as Tech posted their best of both on the day. However, the elite quality of the matchup was readily apparent, as both teams were able to both force each other to make mistakes, as well as capitalize well on misplays. Tech had more errors in service and on the attack, but, other than that, was steady enough on offense to carry the day and propel themselves to their second-ever Elite Eight in front of a crowd of nearly 3,100, which is very solid for 3:00 PM on a weekday.

In the second contest, Tech was not quite so lucky as the first. In their third chance to take down the nation’s best team, the Jackets were able to steal a set, but no more. Of course, it is a daunting task to ask a team to knock off a tremendous team in front of a huge cadre of 6,000 of their own fans, but Tech fought all the way through, at least.

Match Game Flow Plot via Akshay Easwaran

In their last match of the season. Tech was able to ironically take the lead out of the gate in every set except for the one that they would go on to win. The recipe for Tech to win the match, overall, though, was to limit their own errors, while relying on consistent success in their best phase of the game, offense.

Unfortunately, Tech did succumb to errors, and a few key members of the offense had a pretty quiet game.

That doesn’t take away the incredible accomplishments of the season.

Women’s Basketball

Overall: 8-2 / Last Week: 2-0
Polls - AP Poll: 30 (RV)
Nerd Stuff - NET: 31

Georgia Tech notched one of their most significant regular season wins in program history on Thursday night with a defeat of a top three UConn team at home. It is worth noting that the Huskies were shorthanded, most notable being without Paige Bueckers, but Tech still limited their guests to their lowest offensive output in over 15 years, and notched the first upset of UConn by an unranked team in nearly a decade.

The Jackets saw their three point shooting tick upwards over the rest of the season, and their smothering defense also was very clean, committing just seven personal fouls. In the decisive fourth quarter - Tech and UConn ended both the second and third quarters tied -the Huskies were unable to score from the field until under the ninety second mark and managed just five points in the quarter. UConn decided to start fouling with two and a half minutes left, which sounds startling, but could have paid off for them, as Tech’s free throw shooting struggles continued into this week, however, the Jackets did plenty to extend the lead down the stretch.

In the game, Tech played a short rotation, with just seven players seeing the floor during the game. Lotta-Maj Lahtinen led all scorers with 15 points, and was joined in double figures by Nerea Hermosa and Eylia Love. I suppose there should be more to say about the game itself, but that’s the thing - Tech was better from three point range than they have been this year, while still struggling at times to open the floor and at the free throw line. The themes are largely the same, as their tremendous defending and effectiveness on the glass has defined this team for many years. The bigger picture takeaways, though, are just as important, if not more so.

Georgia Tech, because of this statement win, definitely validates their work so far this year. It feels odd to say that an 8-2 team has underperformed this season, given that is a generally excellent mark, but they very well could be undefeated, all things considered. This game revealed a team that is playing to its strengths, can execute a solid gameplan, and can hang with talented teams. Zooming further out, defeating UConn in women’s basketball is something that even the most casual of sports fans can realize is significant, as this team has for decades been synonymous with dominance and success not just in this sport, but across all team sports. Recruits see this, fans resonate this, and the nation is forced to pay attention to the great work being done on the Flats. In one fell swoop, Coach Nell Fortner, her team, and her staff showed that they are sustaining success, and indeed raising the bar even higher for themselves as they continue to lay the groundwork for their program.

Of course, there was a second game this weekend, and one that, based on Tech’s stated inconsistency this year, could very well have been a trap game for the Jackets. Indeed, Furman was able to jump out to an early lead on the back of several made three point baskets, but eventually, as the saying goes, everything regresses to the mean. The Paladins wound up just 6-22 from distance and Tech outscored them in the first three quarters and matched their eleven point output in the fourth. As a numbers guy myself, the palindromic final score of 63-36 is delightful, but it shows that Tech did not let up after their program and era-defining win the previous game. After a quiet game against UConn, the Syracuse graduate transfer Digna Strautmane lit up the board to match Furman’s entire output from three point range with a 6 for 12 mark from distance. She led all scorers with 20 points, and Sarah Bates also went 50% from three point range on 8 attempts, another excellent return to form for 12 points and AC Carter looked excellent from the bench, adding 14 of her own. It is very good to see a variety of names lead the way in the offense, as it shows that the team is balanced and does not rely on a specific scorer - Lahtinen or Cubaj, most expectedly - to always overwhelm the opponents alone.

Georgia Tech had a great week, and showed more flashes of the team that we got used to at the close of last season. Given the changing situation, it is good to see them start to gel. As they turn the calendar to the start of ACC play next Sunday when they host Wake Forest at 6:00 PM on the ACC Network, it will be imperative to start strong, as the conference looks to again have plenty of talent, with Louisville and North Carolina State at the top once more, Notre Dame resurgent after a down year, and the rest of Tobacco Road not much further behind them.

At the very least, it will make for an entertaining path through the next three months.

Indoor Track and Field

As noted above, this news is a little old, but given that the team is at rest until after winter break, it is still the latest and greatest from the cinder circuit.

Sidenote: Can one call tracks a cinder circuit if they’re not actually cinders any more outdoors, let alone indoors? Let me know - I would love to use more colloquialisms when talking track and field.

Anyways, the Jackets split their squad into “Nicole Fegans” and “Not Nicole Fegans” teams for their opening weekend, with most of the team competing in the Clemson Opener on Friday, while Fegans participated in the Boston University Indoor Opener on Saturday. Tech saw two winners in the Clemson Opener, with Shanty Papakosta taking the high jump with a leap of 1.76 meters and going perfect on the way to that mark. Her height may have ben surpassed by McKinley Thompson, who cleared 1.98 meters, but Thompson came up second in the men’s high jump. All in all, it was a solid day to be a Jumpin’ Jacket.

Keeping with the recent success of Tech women in mid- and long-distance running, indoor and outdoor, as well, Riley Perlakowski was the other winner for the Jackets, taking the 1000 meter run in what ramblinwreck.com has confirmed is her first event for Tech. The 600 meter run was also a point of success for the Jackets, who saw Haley Unthank, Ilene Soleyn, and Harrison Fultz finish in the top five in that event.

Up in Boston, Nicole Fegans continued to do Nicole Fegans things, as she broke her own 5000 meter school record yet again with a time of 15:42.73, pushing the record well under 16 minutes for the first time. Fegans, without exaggeration, is certainly the best distance runner to ever compete for Tech. She placed 13th in the 3000 meter run and followed it up with the 12th place finish in the aforementioned 5000 meter.


This Week:

Swimming and Diving:

12/18 — Northwestern and Miami (FL)

Men’s Basketball:

12/18 — vs. Southern California, Jerry Colangelo Classic, Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ

Women’s Basketball:

12/19 — Wake Forest


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