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Volleyball: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview - The Citadel

*existential dread awakens*

Mariana Brambilla pointing at...something!
Danny Karnik / Georgia Tech Athletics

Tonight, Georgia Tech will square off with The Citadel in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament after receiving the no. 8 seed nationally in the tournament and the right to host the first two rounds of the this year’s event. The Jackets are 23-5 on the season, highlighted by a season-opening win against national power Penn State, a five set win over no. 3 Pittsburgh in their home gym, and a 14-4 record in ACC play.

Tech has played extremely well in all facets of the game this year, but has had a particularly effective attack this year, led by experienced upperclassmen Mariana Brambilla and Julia Bergmann. They are joined at outside hitter by up-and-coming freshman Bianca Bertolino, while Breland Morrissette has shown great growth at the middle blocker position. Matti McKissock is Tech’s most decorated setter since the rally scoring model was adopted by the NCAA for the 2001 season, while Paola Pimentel has stepped into the defensive specialist role seamlessly. All six aforementioned players have played in every set for the Jackets this year except for McKissock, who has missed just one set thus far.

It is absolutely worth noting that Tech has accomplished their success this year in no small part to their tremendous depth, with Erin Moss, Kayla Kaiser, Mikaila Dowd, Maddie Tippett, Isabella D’Amico, and Laura Fischer making up essentially a completely separate rotation of six players that, with the necessary caveats of injury luck and related concerns, could very well make the NCAA Tournament in their own right, seeing as they combine for 11 ACC Honor Roll, 3 All-ACC Second Team, 3 ACC All-Academic, and 1 All-ACC Freshman Team selections.

Of course, that’s not how sports work, and instead, Georgia Tech is blessed with a wealth of talent to rival just about anyone in the country. As the Jackets look ahead to their second NCAA Tournament appearance in a row, their first set of back to back appearances since a five year streak from 2000 to 2004 that spanned both the side-out and rally scoring eras and featured a 2004 Sweet Sixteen appearance and an Elite Eight run in 2003 that is almost certainly the greatest season to-date in Georgia Tech history.

It is not hyperbolic to say that this Tech team has the raw talent and refined experience to give that 2003 team a run for their money.

The Citadel - Opponent Season in Review:

Record: 14-11 (8-9 SoCon)
Qualifying Method: Automatic Qualifier - SoConChampions
Last Ten: 5-5 (W3)
RPI: 213
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 0-0
Best Wins: #130 UNC Greensboro (2-1: 3-2, 1-3, 3-2), #201 Samford (2-1: 1-3, 3-1, 3-1), #207 Wofford (2-1: 3-1, 1-3, 3-0)
Worst Losses: #275 Presbyterian (0-1: 1-3), #263 UT-Chattanooga (1-1: 3-0, 1-3), #234 Western Carolina (1-1: 3-1, 0-3)
Other Notable Teams: #140 Mercer (0-2: 0-3, 0-3), #180 Northern Illinois (0-1: 1-3)

The Citadel is streaking into the NCAA Tournament after winning three straight games and the Southern Conference Tournament. They certainly picked the right time of the year to play their best volleyball given that they finished seventh in their conference and 11-11 in the regular season. However, all of this comes with the important caveat that The Citadel has not played a game yet against any team in the RPI top 130. The Citadel is 2-4 with three cancellations against teams in the top 200, and Georgia Tech is decidedly the best team that they have played all year.

But we all know what happened the last time a Tech team played The Citadel.

Yep, men’s tennis swept them 7-0 on February 14, 2021.

Tech’s Tournament Resume:

Record: 23-5 (14-4 ACC)
Qualifying Method: At-Large - #7 RPI, #8 National Seed
Last Ten: 8-2 (W2)
RPI: 7
Record vs. RPI Top 100: 13-5
Best Wins: #2 Pittsburgh (1-1: 3-2, 1-3), #11 Miami (1-0: 3-1), #19 Florida State (2-0: 3-1, 3-0)
Worst Losses: #32 Notre Dame (0-1: 2-3), #11 UCLA (0-1: 1-3), #2 Pittsburgh (1-1: 3-2, 1-3)
Other Notable Games: #1 Louisville (2-0: 0-3, 0-3), #22 UCF (1-0: 3-1), #25 Mississippi State (1-0: 3-0)

Georgia Tech may have played a slightly shorter schedule than normal this year, but it did not stop them from securing the third best regular season winning percentage in program history, behind Bond Shymansky’s first two teams in 2002 and 2003, en route to a 23-5 finish. Tech has had a pair of two game losing streaks this year, and since the first of the two, Tech is 12-2. Two of the the five losses were to undefeated #1 Louisville, and one more was to #2 Pittsburgh, who, as noted, Tech also beat in five sets on the road. As a whole, the ACC had a banner year, with 3 teams in the top 8 national seeds, along with an exceptionally strong non-conference slate, meaning Tech has been tested thoroughly this year.

Tech is prepared and ready for the postseason. Now it is time to get to work.

How to Watch:

7:00 PM Friday — The Citadel vs. #8 Georgia Tech

Streaming/TV: ESPN+

Live Stats:

It is worth noting that the stream is via ESPN+, not ACC Network Extra. Presumably, that makes a difference from what is included via some TV providers, but at $6.99 per month, even if you only watch today and tomorrow, that’s ~$3.50 per match.

On the line today is the opportunity to play the winner of the Western Kentucky/South Carolina match, which takes place at 4:30 PM at O’Keefe. If Tech wins, their Second Round match would take place tomorrow, Saturday, December 4th, at 7:00 PM at O’Keefe Gymnasium.

If you’re outside of Atlanta or find yourself unable to make it to Midtown, tune in tonight to watch Tech take on The Citadel, and, if you have tickets to the match, show up and be loud. Feel free to comment below throughout the game, and, as always, go Jackets!