For the second consecutive year, #12 Georgia Tech Volleyball drew the exact same slot in the NCAA Tournament: the 5-seed in the quadrant with the #1 ranked team. More importantly, this is the 17th slot, the first team out of hosting the first and second rounds, effectively meaning Tech for the second straight year has missed out on hosting by the smallest margin a team can. This year, they will travel to Gainesville to face South Alabama in the first round, and likely will play the 4-seed Florida Gators in the second round.
After the first week of the season where they beat #8 Penn State, Tech was never ranked worse than #12 in the AVCA Coaches Poll. But, when looking at RPI and KPI, Tech was much closer to the 15-16-17 bubble, finishing 19th in RPI and 17th in KPI. Additionally, Tech suffered a bad loss getting swept in Miami late in the season, and couldn’t pull off a second upset at #7 Louisville in the final regular season game, very similar reasons as to why Tech slipped to the 17th slot last season.
On the other hand, while Florida also had a late season slide, at one point losing three consecutive matches at home all to ranked opponents, they had more chances against ranked opponents along with multiple wins against top-10 opponents (#8 Penn State, #2 Stanford, #5 Minnesota, #24 Auburn). Florida’s strength of schedule was 3rd nationally while Tech’s was 32nd.
“It came down to literally looking at Florida’s entire body of work and being consistent and not deviating from our criteria. Florida has a really good non-conference schedule and they have some really impactful wins nudging them up there. At the same time, they didn’t implode. They’ve been finding ways to win...Their work to date is their work to date, and that’s what they were judged on,” said Holly Straus-Braun, the NCAA Volleyball D1 Committee Chair to Volleyballmag. “The 16-seed is one of the, if not the toughest decision decision to make because there are a lot of worthy teams.”
“As hard as it is to not be hosting, I think it says as much about how and when we’re getting ourselves out there. We’re going to get closer and closer to the next steps that we want for this program and I think that we’ve done that over the last three years. It’s hard to be in this position again, but we don’t have time to dwell on this too much. We have to move forward and think about the next game,” said Georgia Tech Head Coach Michelle Collier about the draw in the pre-tournament press conference.
Tech played South Alabama earlier in the season at the Florida A&M Invitational, sweeping them 3-0 and played a tight final set, winning 25-23. The last time Tech had a repeat opponent from the regular season in the NCAA Tournament was in 2021 when they lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight. They also won all five of their neutral site games this season, all coming in the first seven games of the season in which they went undefeated.
“It’s a team that’s very well coached. They do a really good job. Jesse [Ortiz] has done a really good job, he’s really made an impact on that program. They understand what it’s like to compete at a high level. I felt like the Sun Belt had a great conference, they had a lot of teams that made a lot of noise and sustained success this season. We’ve seen through the year that’s anybody’s night on the court, so we’re going to do the things we can control in our gym to get better and get ready for a great match on Thursday,” said Collier of South Alabama.
South Alabama finished the season 20-8, losing in the semifinals 3-1 to Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt Tournament, who eventually won the tournament to recieve the conferences auto-bid. Four Sun Belt teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament (Coastal Carolina, South Alabama, 7-seed James Madison, Texas State).
It’s also the fifth time the Yellow Jackets will have travelled to Florida this season. They travelled to the panhandle beaches for a pre-season retreat, started the season in Tampa, then went to the Florida A&M Invitational, and then played at Miami late in the season.
“We like Florida, we like being good weather at this time of the year. We have a lot of family and friends that are around. We’ve had great support when we’ve played out there, so I think that it’s better than any of the other places that we could’ve gone in terms of the distance. For us, it’s convenient, it helps from that standpoint,” said Collier.
In terms of the calendar, this week is the last week of classes before finals, usually the most stressful week of the year academically for Tech students. For the team and especially the new freshmen who haven’t experienced finals at Tech, it’s a double whammy of heavy academics mixed with the most important game of the year falling in the same week.
“It’s really important that they’re managing their time well. Our academics staff does a great job helping them and supporting them through this time of the year. For us, it’s really hard because it is finals and that’s when it’s the most important part of our season. So, it’s challenging, but I think we have a good group of people around them and can be an example of how to manage these things. If they’ve worked ahead, they should be in the position to make it easier. It is what it is, right? It’s part of playing here at this time of the year and every school is going to be going through that,” said Collier.
Hopefully, this game on Thursday will not be the potential last game for the seniors (Bella D’Amico, Paola Pimentel, Smiley Manyang, Elizabeth Patterson), but it very well could be. Getting through Florida on the road would be a massive victory for the team who hasn’t had an impressive road win since beating #12 Ohio State in back to back nights early in the season.
Tech does have Liv Mogridge back from injury, who will be extremely important to the team’s success. Part of what worked the best before she got hurt was that with Mogridge on the court, Tech was far less predictable with four dangerous attacking options for opposing defenses to prepare for (Bertolino, Otene, Mendes, Mogridge). In their last match against Louisville, they were so reliant on Tamara Otene that she set a personal attack record with 64 in the match. Tech returning to a balanced attack to keep the Gators on their toes could be a significant factor if they get to that match.
Georgia Tech’s first round match in the NCAA Tournament is Thursday, November 30 at 4:30 p.m. on WatchESPN. If they win, their second round match would be Friday at 7 p.m.
Jack Purdy is a non-revenue sports writer and co-host of Scions of the Southland for From the Rumble Seat. He previously served as The Technique’s assistant sports editor before graduating Georgia Tech in 2022. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackNicolaus