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#5-seed GT Volleyball upsets #4-seed Florida 3-2 to advance to Sweet 16

Tech advances past 2nd Round for 3rd time in program history

Paola Pimentel’s Tech career is not quite done yet
GTAA

In the second ever matchup between the Jackets and Gators, #5-seed Georgia Tech Volleyball upset #4-seed Florida 3-2 (22-25, 30-28, 25-21, 25-18, 16-14), moving on to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2021 when the Jackets reached the Elite Eight.

This was the most even game in the bracket, pitting the 16th and 17th slots against each other, and it played out as such. Tamara Otene and Kennedy Martin both hit 21 kills to lead their respective teams. Bianca Bertolino and Elli McKissock (sister of Tech Volleyball alumni Matti Oliver) both had 17 digs. Otene and Martin were also one point away from each other in total points (23 and 22 respectively). Tech hit .261 while the Gators hit .262.

How Tech pulled this off is a little bit of a miracle. Despite going up 2-1 after three sets, Tech’s serving was damaging their chances, hitting nine service errors in the first two sets alone and then another three in the third set. Otene and Soares accounted for seven of Tech’s 15 errors throughout the match, some coming a painful moments.

Bianca Bertolino struggled at the service line too, but did record her 11th double-double of the season and 25th of her career with 18 kills and 17 digs. Smiley Manyang is now over the 100-kill mark this season. After a career high in kills agains South Alabama, DeAndra Pierce regressed hitting five kills at .214.

Set 1

After Florida put a solid block on Mendes to go up 2-0, Tech went on a three point run to take a temporary one point lead before Flordia came right back with their own run. Down 7-4, Soares set Pierce for one of her cleanest kills of the season, spurring a four point run where Tech went up 10-8, including a good kill by Bertolino who struggled the previous night against South Alabama.

Bertolino once again could not get a point on her serve with Florida getting an in-system kill to make it 12-11 Tech, but from there Tech won six of the next nine points to go up 18-14 with kills from Otene and Mogridge, forcing Florida’s first timeout. Manyang put up a fantastic solo block to put Tech up 19-15, but the Gators won the next two points from a D’Amico service error and Bertolino hitting a ball way long, forcing Collier to call a timeout to settle Tech down.

Similar to set two yesterday, Tech could not hold a late lead, allowing Florida to tie it at 19-19. After Mendes tied it at 22-22, Soares and Manyang came in, but Soares hit a service error before Otene was blocked to go down two set points. Despite having multiple great chances during the next point, Kennedy Martin smacked one off Manyang’s head to give Florida a 25-22 set win. Tech was plagued with five service errors in the set.

Set 2 (1-0 FLA)

Collier successfully challenged the first point of the set, giving Tech a 1-0 lead that did not last after Bertolino hit the next serve straight into the net, her sixth service error of the NCAA Tournament. It was back and forth after with ties at 3-3 and 5-5 before Tech went on a small run to go up 7-5 that was halted by yet another service error, this time Otene. Ties again occurred at 8-8 and 9-9. Tech should’ve had a small lead with Mogridge getting a free ball hit up 12-10, but Florida was able to get a great dig and convert it into a point.

At the 13-13 tie, Florida successfully challenged a touch call to change the score to 14-12, winning the race to 15 up 15-13. Pierce landed a solid kill after the media timeout before Tech went on a three point run to tie it at 17-17. A Manyang/Mogridge block put Tech up 19-18 before Florida tied it on the next point and went up 20-19, forcing Tech’s first timeout. Bertolino tied it at 20 right after, but Tech could not defend well enough on the next point and couldn’t return an ace, calling their second timeout down 22-20.

A Mogridge solo block won Tech the next point, before Bertolino again hit a service error to go down 23-21. Tech won the next point and put in Elizabeth Patterson in to spot serve, and she delivered with an ace to tie it at 23-23, forcing a Florida timeout. Mendes got an in-system kill to force Florida’s second timeout, going up set point. The Gators held for a 25-25 tie. Tech then had three more set points up 26-25, 27-26, and 28-27 that they could not convert into a set win before finally at 29-28, Bertolino hit a roll serve that was tricky enough for Florida to where it landed for an ace, winning the set 30-28.

Set 3 (1-1)

Tech’s two straight points to finish the second set did not stop after the extended set break, going on a 6-0 run to start the third set with multiple Otene and Mendes kills. The lead extended to 9-1 after another three point run, at which point every attacker on the floor had at least one kill for Tech.

Florida got their groove back though, winning seven of the next ten points with good offense to force a Tech timeout up 12-8. Otene was given a yellow card on the next point for arguing a push call, but Tech still was able to stop Florida’s run before they got too close. Otene and Manyang hit emphatic kills to stretch the lead back to five at 18-13, forcing Florida’s second timeout of the set.

Slowly but surely, Florida found ways to chip at the lead, winning seven of the next twelve points to where Collier felt the need to call timeout up 23-21. Bertolino stopped the momentum with a devestating drop shot to set up set point, with which Patterson at the line, was converted by Otene on an in-system kill to win 25-21.

Set 4 (GT 2-1)

Florida’s late set momentum carried into the fourth, quickly going up 6-1 to force a Tech timeout. Mogridge landed an ace to make it 6-3, but every time after that Tech had a little momentum, Florida was easily able to quash it and keep a lead no smaller than four. Bertolino went back to the jump serve in the set, but again Tech was not able to actually win a point with her at the service line. As Florida closed out the set, Collier was given a yellow card for dissent. Florida won the set 25-18.

Set 5 (2-2)

Florida took an early lead up 3-1, but critcally got AC Fitzpatrick off the service line in one point after she had been a pain in the fourth set. Down 3-2, Mogridge was caught in the back line and Essix was able to find a gap to make it 4-2 Florida. The Gators later went on a three point run to go up 8-4. On that eight point, Collier challenged a no-touch call after the teams changed benches, forcing the teams to unchange benches, but was unsuccessful, so then everyone changed benches again.

A Gator service error started a three point Tech run to shrink the lead to 8-7. Florida won the next point, which Collier challenged (fourth-touch) but was unsuccessful. Soares hit a costly service error to go down 11-8, seriously putting Tech in a hard spot with AC Fitzpatrick at the service line. Again, Tech got her off the line in one point and won the next point to make it 11-10. The sides went back and forth to 13-12 after a huge Otene kill. Lauren Sanden then came in to serve, at which Tech tied it at 13-13, forcing Florida to call timeout.

From there, Otene put up an amazing solo block on Gabbi Essix, the ball rebounding off Essix onto the Florida side, setting up match point. Tech did not waste the opportunity, killing the next point to win 16-14.

Limited box score as PxP data was not available at the time of writing
Stats by Florida

Game Leaders

Kills: Tamara Otene (GT)/Kennedy Martin (UF) - 21

Assists: Kennedy Muff (UF) - 54

Digs: Elli McKissock (UF)/Bianca Bertolino (GT) - 17

Points: Tamara Otene (GT) - 23

Hit % (min. 10 attempts): Liv Mogridge (GT) - .538

Blocks: Nnedi Okammor (UF) - 8


Takeaways

  • Split Setters: Collier has been giving Bella D’Amico and Heloise Soares equitable time at setter over the last few matches, and that’s been working recently. With D’Amico’s consistent tendency this season to start losing her touch around the third set, letting Soares fill in some gaps with Smiley Manyang in the 6-2 formation has allowed Tech to play a higher level of volleyball more consistently. Same logic for Larissa Mendes, who as a freshman certainly is still developing and at times is better to let Manyang play, a 5th-year.
  • What this win means: Tech has made the Sweet Sixteen three other times: 2003, 2004, and 2021. In ‘03, they beat California before losing to Hawaii in the Elite Eight. In ‘04 they lost to Minnesota in the Sweet Sixteen. In 2021, they beat Ohio State en route to falling to Louisville in their own building. Michelle Collier is now the second Georgia Tech Volleyball head coach to lead a team to the Sweet Sixteen twice. Tech is also now 5-1 in five set matches this season.

Spiritually, and as a fan who has watched nearly every match this season, I’m in utter bliss right now. This team had to figure out how to win over and over in five set matches, but all of those were against lesser teams as they were trying to adjust without Liv Mogridge. Tonight, Liv was there, they figured it out with toughness, touch, and timely plays from the bench. I know this team needed this win. They knew they were good enough to win and had been beaten badly going into the tournament. I am full of pride knowing Collier and her staff have pulled off what so few Georgia Tech teams have ever done. I know what I’ll be doing next weekend.

Georgia Tech Volleyball next plays between December 8-9 against the winner of #1 Nebraska and #8-seed Missouri. If Nebraska wins, Tech will travel to Lincoln. If Missouri wins, Tech will instead head to Lexington, KY as #2-seed Kentucky would be the hosts.


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

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