ATLANTA, GEORGIA — Somewhere between the end of October and fall finals, the Olympic sports scene on campus really quiets down. While the fall sports scene does skew towards the odd, tournament, and exhibition slate, it still outpaces the general doldrums of December by a considerable margin. Now, will I be singing the same tune in February and March when there are seven sports in action in a given week? Probably not. But for now, the time between regular season college football and college basketball conference play leaves a lot to be desired on the airwaves, even for an NFL Sunday.
Instead, seeing no real point in tuning into Saturday morning content, yours truly got on the ol’ trusty bicycle and went for a morning cruise around Atlanta. “What does that have to do with the sports you cover in this column, Jake, so why mention it?” is a completely valid question to be asking, given the setup.
Something I meditate on quite frequently is just how much is going on in the typical city. To continue with the Saturday morning example, my travels brought me through a vast swath of the intown neighborhoods past countless restaurants, coffeeshops, and stores. For the more urbanist-minded among my readers, you are possibly familiar with my ultimate destination - the recently redone Cherokee Avenue on the west side of Grant Park. If this were not a column about sports, then I would find myself with greater license to elaborate on why such investments are needed and where we might consider building more of them, but, to avoid belaboring the point, I will say simply this: what they did there, we need everywhere. Buffered bike lanes with concrete barriers and visible posts, raised crosswalks, improvements for MARTA bus riders, and well-kept and marked automobile lanes made for a great trip to the park. The return trip to my residence took me town a swath of the soon-to-be-enhanced-with-rail portion of the Eastside Beltline, which is more famously a much loved asset for the city.
But, how often do we think about things like these, in the event we don’t often use them? How often does one consider about the usefulness of a bridge on a route they never take or excellent cultural assets like the Fox or the High Museum if they visit only sporadically? I would argue that the answer is probably not that often. What use is dwelling on the bus service in Decatur to someone from North Springs that only uses MARTA to get to the airport, or the state of Interstate 75 for someone that drives into the city for work on 20? These these often surface when I have conversations with Tech fans or other Atlantans about not only infrastructure, but when conversations inevitably turn to some level of shared interest in sports.
To most, Georgia Tech volleyball, for a current example, exists as a blip on their consciousness only when it comes time for the NCAA Tournament, or perhaps after a ranked win or the annual edition of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate, depending on how they have curated their social media, word of mouth, and other news sources. Responses are similar for something like women’s basketball and last year’s UConn win or men’s golf during their annual runs at ACC and NCAA championships. Seriously, the golf team is more often than not an inevitability, rather than a question.
Anyways, back to the matter at hand. What I’ve found over the years is that the aim of this site and this column, about any of the teams we cover, really, is not to write and demand the same kind of rabid know-it-all-ness about, say, softball, that I might expect of myself. No, rather, the aim, as I reflect on another year of this column, is to raise the overall level of discourse in an open and inviting way. The very best way to make more fans of volleyball (or any of the aforementioned examples of cultural asset utilization, infrastructure, or exploration of the many eclectic food and retail options, for that matter) is to present it in a way that is both informative and digestible.
It is doubly fitting to think about this topic this time of year, given the aforementioned volleyball tournament. Sure, the recent uptick in the accessibility of college baseball, softball, and volleyball coverage has been useful, too, in getting more people able to casually consider engaging with the sport. As is inevitable, there is plenty to do in Atlanta and elsewhere. But, at the very least, if you’re this far into this column, welcome, we’re glad to have you. It’s a light week, but I am glad women’s basketball and track are on your mind.
It may not be much, but at least Tech is winning in Midtown — and more on that later in the column.
Indoor Track and Field
Given the delayed output of these columns over the last few weeks — one can only do so much between travel for work and, well, actually working, holidays, staying current with breaking news on the podcast, and the actual consumption of sports — it is worth revisiting the fact that Track and Field has kicked off their indoor season. As is typical, they will spend most of it in either Clemson or Nashville, sometimes splitting the squad to go to both in the same weekend.
For those that have followed track or cross country for a while, you’ll note that some of the same themes apply here as they did earlier in the fall, the most obvious being the departure of future Georgia Tech Hall of Fame inductee Nicole Fegans. Cameron O’Neal, Taylor Grimes, and Shanty Papakosta are names to highlight among the returners in the non-distance events, as the sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers, and throwers do not compete with the distance runners in the fall cross country season. Among that group, O’Neal took home the 2021 ACC Indoor Freshman of the Year award, Grimes is a one time All-ACC first team finisher and three time All-ACC second team finisher, and Papakosta was a 2022 USTFCCCA All-Academic team awardee, one time All-ACC first and second team finisher, and two time All-ACC academic finisher.
In their first action of the season, the team headed up to Clemson to compete in the Clemson Opener. Tech had a number of first place finishes, including sweeping the men’s 600m sprint courtesy of Jameson Miller, Parker Buchheit, and Jeremiah LaDuca, Sheleah Harris’ win in 200m and podium finish in the 60m, along with Shanty Papakosta’s victory in the women’s high jump. Two men and two other women also finished among the top four in the high jump for the Jackets, highlighting the general strength Tech showed in the jumps on the day, with top three finishes in the triple and long jumps, as well.
Tech is at rest for the rest of the calendar year and will return in 2023 to open the heart of the indoor season with yet another trip to Clemson for their Clemson Invite. Having booked my fair share of club sports travel to that town on the lake, I recommend the Best Western Plus, for the record.
Tech (8-2) summarily dispatched Central Michigan (1-8) 71-45
I will lay my cards out before we get too deep in this recap — I am unsure of the value of the home-and-home of this series. For those that do not recall last year’s schedule, Tech tipped off their quest to return to the Sweet Sixteen last year on the road in Mount Pleasant, which is located approximately in the middle of a triangle drawn between Saginaw, Grand Rapids, and Traverse City about halfway up the Lower Peninsula. I say all of this to convey that this is not a particularly conveniently located place, nor is it in the middle of a fertile recruiting ground. Central Michigan finished last year 287th in RPI, and they’re parked at 320th. Coming into today’s game, CMU was 1-7, and it was important for seeding and tournament-related purposes that they leave the game 1-8. If anything, the necessary outcome for the game was to stay in the swing of things during finals, get live reps, and get a win.
In that regard, Tech was successful. Coming into the game, Tech was 7-2, with losses to the school in Athens and South Florida, just barely inside the top 70 of RPI. Though the schedule quality will rise as the calendar flips over to the ACC season, that RPI is not the quality that will secure an NCAA bid, thus the concern regarding the outcome in Sunday’s contest. After a 12-11 lead by Central Michigan with a few minutes to play in the first, that outcome, I would say, was never truly in doubt. Though the game stayed reasonably close in the second quarter, a 13-0 Tech run broke things open, and the lead peaked at 64-32 before settling on the final score. All in all, Tech led for 37:59 of the game’s 40:00 length. Tech was relatively efficient, shooting 42.6 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from distance, and, even better, posting a comforting 92.9 percent from the free throw line. The latter stat is particularly revealing, given past struggles to secure points on free throws, and will need to stay high to fight for a double bye in ACC play, especially with Notre Dame returning to form.
As for individual performers, Bianca Jackson led the Jackets with 14 points, as Tech spread the ball around a lot on the day, in addition to giving the bottom of the rotation a significant share of the playing time. 12 Tech players saw the court, while 34 of Tech’s points came from the bench, including double figures for Ines Noguero and Kara Dunn. Noguero made the most of her time on the floor, sinking two of her four three pointers. Also off the bench, Kayla Blackshear was by far Tech’s best rebounder, pulling down ten as the sixth woman on the day. Tech’s starters represented just 51.5 percent of the available minutes on the day, with three bench players (Noguero, Dunn, and Nerea Hermosa) all outpacing at least one starter in minutes.
I also learned today that Central Michigan has an Atlanta office on Powers Ferry Road about a half block up from the Perimeter between the Battery and the Cochran Shoals portion of the Chattahoochee River National Recreational Area, for some reason. Are they just big Braves fans? Do they like floating down Southern rivers on inner tubes? I certainly haven’t the least idea why it exists.
Tech’s attendance on the day was 1,504, and the Jackets will return to action following finals next Sunday afternoon in Chestnut Hill as they visit Boston College. This game will serve as a homecoming for transfer guard Cameron Swartz, who spent the past few years as a member of the Eagles before returning to the South to join Coach Fortner’s team.
In the Club House:
All clubs remain at rest due to fall semester finals and the upcoming Winter Break.
12/18 — at Boston College [1:00 PM, Regional Sports Networks (Atlanta — Bally Sports South)]
12/17 — Alabama State [2:00 PM, ACC Network Extra]