ATLANTA, GEORGIA — Given I’ve spent the past two afternoons watching the Little League World Series, I was going to use this space to grumble about one of the new United States regions being a collection of relatively sparsely populated mountain states out west, while the Southeast, Southwest, and Midwest cover quite a bit more people and land. With these opening paragraphs usually being pretty eclectic, I might work, but then I realized there’s a pretty good chance people have no idea what I would be talking about.
So, on with the main event. And in the meantime, go Curaçao.
Tech defeats Ole Miss 3-1 (13-25, 26-24, 28-26, 27-25) in Oxford
Tech dispatches #17 Illinois 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 25-17) in Oxford
One would be forgiven if they had been in a bit of a panic after the first set on Friday night. To say Tech started the season a bit slow would be something of an understatement, as the Jackets were more or less run off the floor in the opening set of the season by a score of 25-13. Ole Miss, to their credit, was an NCAA Tournament team last year returning a fair bit of experience, but there was really nothing that broke Tech’s way the entire set, defensively, offensively, or otherwise. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, it can also be noted that Tech did tighten up to win the next three sets and the match.
In the second set, Tech once again trailed early, but was able to keep the match tight on improved defensive positioning and efficacy. The Jackets pushed their lead to four points for most of the back half of the set, playing for set before three straight points for their hosts pushed the set to bonus volleyball, which would prove to be a theme of the match overall. Tech rattled off two straight points of their own to tie the match at one set apiece.
The third set again started tight, with neither pulling ahead before a 10-10 tie midway through. From there, Tech got on a roll on offense, fueled in part by the preposterously effective afternoon Julia Bergmann put together, particularly after the first set. Bergmann’s 33 kills rank in the top 5 from a single match in program history, and ramblinwreck.com also noted that the performance pushed her over 1,200 career kills on the Flats. Despite Tech pushing their lead throughout the second half of the set, they once again had issues closing out the set, as Ole Miss rocketed past Tech with five straight points to lead 23-21. The hosts would play for three set points of their own at 24-23, 25-24, and 26-25 before three Tech points put the Jackets on top once more after another bought of bonus volleyball.
Unlike the first three sets, Tech got off to a smooth start in the fourth, but Ole Miss slowly whittled the lead down as the match progressed. That said, as a slew of late set ties might imply, the Jackets and Ole Miss both played for set points in the fourth before three straight Tech points again put the set, and indeed the match, firmly in control of the Jackets.
friendly neighborhood analytics tweet is back with another postgame race plot— From the Rumble Seat (@FTRSBlog) August 26, 2022
- Set 1: bad!
- the other 3: down to the wire
- Tech separated itself in sets 2-4 BUT kept letting OM back in
- OM ripped off multiple streaks, gotta get better on sideouts to kill comebacks pic.twitter.com/1KtJQcnnaA
On Saturday, Tech played arguably a stiffer test in the form of the Illinois Fighting Illini, a regular Big Ten power and the preseason #17 team in the country. However, the match that played out resembled a vintage 2021 Tech volleyball outing much more than the rocky season opener the day before. The lineup was much shorter for Tech on Saturday, with just nine players seeing game action, but the stats much more evenly distributed, as no one player managed to dominate the box score quite like that of Bergmann on Friday night. This match was not aired on a streaming service, which is rather disappointing, given the previous day’s match was able to be streamed by Ole Miss, and thus my ability to offer commentary outside of observations from following along the live stats and taking a look at the box score is a bit muted.
As can be seen in the plot embedded below, the first set of the afternoon would prove to be the tightest final margin of the day, with Illinois hanging around late in the set, despite Tech stacking up a late lead. That would be the only set of that nature on the day, a welcome change from the down-to-the-wire finishes the previous night, and the second set was a particularly dominant affair for Tech. Interestingly, the third set was the closest the entire way, but once the score hit 16-15, the Jackets clamped down, and it was nice to see them solidly take care of business to finish the match strong against a well regarded team.
Heeeeeeere’s your post-game race plot — pretty dominant performance by Tech today, much more in-line with what we expected to see coming into the year pic.twitter.com/mWpRk9maat— From the Rumble Seat (@FTRSBlog) August 27, 2022
Ultimately, the weekend has to be considered a success. Tech bounced back in a pretty extreme way from what had the potential to be a rocky start to the season. Even though it is not out of the realm of possibility that Tech was still lucky to win the three remaining sets against Ole Miss, they still played a complete enough game - led by the ACC Player of the Year, no less - to escape with a win against a scrappy team. This game had strong parallels to the Jackets’ first game of the Fall 2020 season in Miami, as they stumbled out of the gate in five sets against a sneaky good Hurricanes team that has been in a similar spot in the ACC picture to the one Ole Miss occupies in the SEC. With much more of a defined lineup on Saturday, the Jackets rallied to take out a stronger team in convincing fashion, and all signs indicate that the team, thus, is trending in the right direction.
Two wins and doing some learning through live reps against good teams is exactly what one would want out of an opening weekend. The Jackets will next be in action in a three game invite with Dayton, Arizona State, and Florida International Friday through Sunday next weekend for their home opener.
For more from this weekend, check out Jack’s Three Thoughts here.
Though commonly thought of as primarily a spring sport, one of the two Racquet Jacket teams released their fall schedule last week. The five event schedule sees Tech traveling to Greenville, Cary, and Knoxville for tournaments and they will also serve as Southeast Region hosts for the fall outdoor ITA tournament October 14-17, their one home date on the schedule. Pending the outcome of ITA Regionals, the Jackets’ final fall appearance could be as late as November 2-6 in San Diego at ITA Nationals.
9/2 — Dayton [8:00 PM, ACCNX] (GT Invitational)
9/3 — Arizona State [5:00 PM, ACCNX] (GT Invitational)
9/4 — Florida International [2:00 PM, ACCNX] (GT Invitational)
9/1 — Berry Open [7:00 PM]