A year after a disappointing 2nd round exit in the NCAA Tournament, #5-seed Georgia Tech’s season ends one step further in 2023, losing 3-0 (11-25, 15-25, 21-25) to the national #1-seed Nebraska Cornhuskers. Tech finishes the season 24-7, three wins better than 2022 in a season with lots of turnover and question marks of just how good they would be.
Tech’s offense was remarkably out of sorts in the first two sets, hitting -0.111 in the first and 0.029 in the second (11 and 10 attack errors respectively) while Nebraska had no problems in every facet of their game, hitting .281 then .500 in those sets.
Nebraska had Tech overpowered and outmaneuvered from the beginning. Nebraska Head Coach John Cook knew that they could not let Bianca Bertolino get on any kind of serving run, and even though Tech’s head coach Michelle Collier altered the serving pattern slightly to try and catch Nebraska in a weird rotation. Bertolino did not score a single point on her serve. She did though reach 1,000 career digs in the match.
The Jackets came around to their usual level of play in the third set, but still fell short after Nebraska went on a late run to put Tech away.
Merritt Beason was the leading player for Nebraska with 11 kills at .435, eight digs, an ace, and four blocks. Ally Batenhorst was the only other player to reach double digit kills with 10.
Nebraska overwhelmed Tech immediately, scoring the first three points and getting Bianca Bertolino off the service line to go up 5-2. After a 3-0 run for the Huskers, Collier went to her 6-2 rotation, which finally scored a point to make it 10-4 on Nebraska’s first attack error of the set. A successful challenge by Collier kept Tech’s run alive to make it 10-6, but Nebraska countered right back for a 13-6 lead, forcing Tech’s first timeout.
Tech at least stopped the run after the timeout, and then won the longest rally of the set with a Bertolino kill to make it 15-8. From there, Tech’s defense could not stop anything, allowing four kills in the next five points, followed up by three attack errors that ended the set 25-11 in the Huskers favor. Tech hit 11 errors at -0.111 and were heavily reliant on Otene, who had 15 attempts. No other Jacket had more than eight.
2nd set (1-0 NEB)
The next set was just as bleak with three straight Nebraska points to bring their total point run to seven. Another three point run was stopped there by Collier’s second successful challenge of the match to make it 6-2 Nebraska. Soares followed it up with an ace before pulling within two down 7-5, but Nebraska pulled away with a four point run to go up 11-6.
With kills from Manyang and Mogridge, Tech got ther first three point run of the match, shrinking the Husker lead to 14-12 that Nebraska followed up immediately with a three point run. Collier switched in Leia Harper in down 19-15, and she immediately got blocked twice during a four point Husker run, part of a greater 7-2 run they went on to close out the set 25-16. Tech after two sets was hitting -.043 with 21 total errors while Nebraska hit .500 in the set.
3rd set (2-0 NEB)
The extended break between sets gave Tech an opportunity to reset, during which Collier swapped Soares into the base 5-1 rotation, also swapping Anna Boezi in for Liv Mogridge. An Otene kill on the first point gave Tech their first lead of the match. Tech and Nebraska spent the majority of the set trading points with 15 ties and seven lead changes. Tech’s digging got to a much better place than it was in the second set to keep points alive, along with turning what were errors earlier in the match to kills.
On the early end, Boezi landed one of her fastest paced kills of the season to make it 9-8 Nebraska, and then again on her attack tied it at 11-11 to begin a three point run for Tech to go up 13-11. Nebraska countered immediately with their own three point run before Tech tied it at 14. The Huskers got Bertolino off the service line in one point, giving them a 16-15 lead before Tech took a 17-16 lead with Liz Patterson spot serving, forcing Nebraska’s first timeout of the match. A service error by her tied it at 17.
Otene’s ninth kill of the match put Tech up 19-18, but it was the last lead Tech would see. Nebraska sealed the deal with a six point run, burning both of Tech’s timeouts and beating the Jackets with offense, blocking, and an ace. Merritt Beason closed the set out with her 11th kill, winning 25-21.
Kills: Merritt Beason (NEB) - 11
Assists: Bergen Reilly (NEB) - 30
Digs: Lexi Rodriguez (NEB) - 12
Points: Merritt Beason (NEB) - 15
Hit % (min. 10 attempts): Bekka Allick (NEB) - .455
Blocks: Andi Jackson (NEB) - 5
- The pressure: Not that there’s another game to implement any learnings too, but this was the first time Tech truly was out of their league all season. I wonder if they were rattled so easily in the beginning of the match because this was the first time any of these players had been to Nebraska, or just the grandiosity of the moment got to them. Nebraska is too good to not take advantage of any opening they can get, and they got two sets worth of cracks to expose. Tech looked like they could not stop anything in the first two sets to establish their rhythm. Once they did, the third set was competitive the whole way and they gave themselves a fighting chance.
- Middles vs. Pins: Mogridge was 3/6 hitting .500, but she was not a force in this match, Collier opting to not play her in the third set. Pierce similarly only got six attempts hitting .166. 58% of Tech’s attacks went to either Otene or Bertolino. That is not the balance this team had early in the season and certianly not the balance that beat Louisville. A huge priority for Tech in the offseason has to be getting better in the middle so that they won’t have to completely rely on their outside hitters. It was different when Julia Bergmann was here because she was such a game changing force that it never was a bad idea to go to her. No one on this team is that good, so the balance in attack is critical to make Tech a threat. We didn’t see that until the third set when Boezi made an impact to free up Otene and Bertolino for more open shots.
- Was the season a success? 100%. With so many new players and needing to replace one of Tech’s all time greatest, getting to the round of 16 is a major success. I didn’t have this team finishing with 24 wins, but I did have them making it this far.
“I think we will miss hosting NCAAs again but be no worse than a six-seed, falling in the Sweet Sixteen to any of Louisville, Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, or Pittsburgh,” I said in our season preview.
Not having Liv Mogride for 12 matches in the middle of the season has me wondering what could’ve been if she stuck around. Tech only lost a couple matches they were favorites in (Miami 2x) while she was out or recovering, but losing the playing time with her I imagine has to make a difference in how in sync they were with her, impacting her effectiveness in what usually is a highly efficient attacking position. Tech had no consistent blocking without her save a couple good Boezi matches.
This being the final game for Paola Pimentel, Bella D’Amico, Elizabeth Patterson, and Smiley Manyang, there are holes to fill. Pimentel has been the only dressed libero the last two seasons. Soares assumedly will become the primary setter next season. Losing Manyang creates another opening at middle blocker, a position Tech desperately needs help in.
All that said, there are spots Tech can improve on, there are teams they still need to beat (hello, Pitt!), but they were ranked every week this season and have been for the last 68 AVCA Coaches Polls. Rooting for this team is one of the great joys of being a Yellow Jacket. We can’t wait to do it all again in 2024.
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