Let me make one thing clear: Georgia Tech Volleyball’s odds at winning in the Sweet Sixteen are low. Considerably low. Can they win? Yes, and it will likely take one of the greatest single teamwide performances any Georgia Tech team in any sport has ever done to pull it off. Six of Nebraska’s players were recently named to the AVCA North All-Region team, in which there are only 14 available spots.
What encourages me though is how in tune Michelle Collier’s team is with itself. In watching them play and talking with them in press conferences, this team has never wavered in the belief that they have a great system in place that has put them in this situation. They will play anyone anywhere at any time. The last four years of Tech Volleyball have been a testament to how well Collier and her staff have built an annual contender on the national level. Getting to the Sweet Sixteen is no accident.
But, teams like Nebraska and Wisconsin have been, and still are, head and shoulders above the rest of the volleyball world, ruling the highest tier in women’s volleyball that Tech hasn’t quite reached yet.
In the big teamwide stats, Nebraska has a clear advantage everywhere except in digging, where Tech has been one of the best teams in the nation all season.
NCAA Ranks GT vs. Nebraska
|Opp Kill %
Numbers aside, Nebraska slipped up once all season, a sweep by Wisconsin in their second to last game of the season. The Badgers arguably should’ve had two wins over Nebraska, as they lost a potential match in October winning set 26-24 while up 2-1 before again just barely losing the fifth set 15-13. Purdue and Penn State also got them to five sets. The Nittany Lions lost in a reverse sweep, the only other team besides Wisconsin to go up 2-0 on the Nebraska.
“Nebraska is awesome, they obviously have done so much for the game of volleyball. Their program has really helped grow the game. Their fans are loyal but also very respectful. I think we’re going to have a great volleyball environment,” said Georgia Tech Head Coach Michelle Collier on facing the Cornhuskers.
Meanwhile, Tech has had their share of ups and downs, but through it all have managed to go 24-6 with only two truly bad losses (vs. UGA, @ Miami) in their first year of “retooling” instead of “rebuilding” after losing Julia Bergmann, Erin Moss, and Breland Morrissette to graduation last season.
“It really helps us be harder to defend and gives us a better block on that side too. It’s nice to see them to be able to come in and give us that extra boost. I think we had about 21-22 points from Smiley and Larissa together [against Florida]. That’s a big deal balancing out Bianca and Tam, it just makes us a little more offensive and defensive.”
What will it take to win?
“Do what we do everyday. [There’s] great players on the other side and great players on our side and great coaches on both sides of the net. It’s gonna be a battle. We do have to be balanced. We have to serve really really well to minimize their offensive weapons. They’re the number one team in the country for a reason,” said Collier.
I’m glad Collier mentioned serving in Monday’s press conference, because that was a glaring issue in both the South Alabama and Florida games, particularly Bianca Bertolino, who ranks 6th nationally with 0.55 aces/set.
Against South Alabama, Bertolino hit five errors, accounting for half of Tech’s errors at the line. After spending the whole season being the single best weapon Tech had, she became one of Tech’s chief liabilities in the first round.
Against Florida, Tech hit 15 service errors with five players hitting at least two. Three of those came from Bertolino, where she finally landed an ace but it wasn’t from her usually overpowering jump serve. The fact Tech got past Florida with this problem is a small miracle. It will not fly against Nebraska.
For Tech to win, getting balls over the net is a huge priority. With any net sport, you lose any chance of winning if you can’t at least just get it over. Tech has a good enough defense to keep points alive. Rely on it. It’s no mistake that Paola Pimentel, Bertolino, Otene, and at times Lauren Sanden have been a wall in the back line.
Tech also needs another game like vs. Louisville where the middle blockers are difference makers. The moment the Bella D’Amico and Soares can’t consistently find Pierce/Manyang/Mogridge will significantly hold back any change Tech has at winning.
If the Jackets win, they will face the winner of #2-seed Kentucky and #3-seed Arkansas.
LET’S GO TECH!
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