To begin ACC play, the now 13th-ranked Georgia Tech Volleyball team beat Clemson 3-1 (29-31, 25-13, 25-16. 25-15) to move to a 10-1 record for the season and 17-17 all-time at Clemson.
Tech was led by Tamara Otene, who put up a double-double with 22 kills and 15 digs, hitting .300 with 23.5 points. Bianca Bertolino also had a double-double with 12 kills plus 17 digs at .184. Larissa Mendes rounded out the attacking triumvurate with 13 kills of her own hitting .400.
Clemson got the early lead at 2-0, with the lead remaining within two or tied for about 20 points. Twice in this stretch, Georgia Tech Head Coach Michelle Collier reversed calls with successful challenges. Otene, back in the lineup after getting benched on Sunday, came out swinging with eight kills in the set. Tech’s first lead didn’t come until 13-12 from a DeAndra Pierce kill on a free ball.
Collier played Heloise Soares and Smiley Manyang for the middle of the set as she has in previous matches, using a 6-2 lineup instead of her usual 5-1 with D’Amico at setter. After Tech went up 15-13, Clemson went on a four point run to retake the lead, 17-15, forcing Collier to call timeout. Tied at 17, Clemson went on another four point run, including a very long point to go up 19-17 that seemed to suck the wind out of Tech.
Bertolino got going late, hitting critical kills including one to make it 22-22. Tech had to save multiple set points down 24-22, and did so, forcing extra points. Both teams had multiple opportunities to put the set away, but the defenses were resilient until Tech finally gave out, losing the set 31-29. It marked the first time Clemson won a first set against a ranked opponent since 2019 and against Tech since 2020.
“They came out with a lot of fire and we came out a little slow,” said Collier of the first set in her postgame interview, who also noted “we were a little disengaged in that first set.”
Clemson kept control to start the second set, quickly going up 3-0. Tech kept leaking points with attack errors, staying down 6-3 before a 4-1 run to tie it at 7. From that point on, Tech looked like a completely different team, swinging much more freely and making life uncomfortable for Clemson, whose attack errors began to stack up quickly (Clemson finished with eight in the set). Tech was able to take advantage of that, winning 9 of 13 points to go up 18-11, where the Tigers called timeout. Clemson did not find any answers from the timeout, only winning two more points en route to a 25-13 set win for Tech.
This set was where Otene found herself. After a heavy load in the first set which resulted in a stretch of three consecutive attack errors, she hit four kills and had a double-double by the end of the set. Clemson’s aggression from the first set was completely gone by the time the set was over, scoring only five points after being up 8-7 and hit -.129 with only four kills.
Tech in the third set continued their systematic dismantling of Clemson from the second set, going up 9-6 before a six point run put them up 17-10. Compared to the previous sets, Tech was hitting more kills off Clemson’s block, and notably looked like they felt freer to challenge the Tiger block instead of hitting drop shots over them. After Tech’s six point run, it was nothing more than a formality to wrap the set up 25-15. The Jackets hit a blistering .441 in the set with 17 kills, which included two by Pierce to win the set.
Clemson had a better start in the fourth set, keeping things interesting by going on a four point run to square it at 10-10 and then again at 14-14. In those 28 points, it never truly felt like Tech was losing control of the match like in the first set, but more like Clemson was finding their footing again. Later in the set, Tech grew a little lead from which Otene smashed a great kill to put Tech up 19-16, prompting a Clemson timeout. It did essentially nothing to stop Tech, as Bianca Bertolino’s power serve carried a six point run that brought Tech to the finish line, winning 25-16.
The first set ended up being very misrepresentative of the match. Clemson hit .232 in the first to Tech’s .143, and then never did better than 0.088 in the remaining sets. The moment Tech found themselves, it was over for Clemson. The Tigers needed to be aggressive to have a chance, but that also meant Tech would need to make mistakes, which came in the form of nine attack errors in the first set.
Tech now has won 14 straight games against Clemson, their last loss coming November 11, 2015, meaning none of the current team or last year’s team had lost to the Tigers.
- 6-2 vs. 5-1: Over the last couple weekends, Collier’s most frequent substitution has been to switch formations from a 5-1 with D’Amico setting to a 6-2 where her and Larissa Mendes swap out for Smiley Manyang at middle blocker and Heloise Soares at setter. Usually, she’s done it in the middle of a set and brings back D’Amico and Manyang at the end. She went with that again in the first set today, but seeing how it didn’t stabilize the team, staying away from it in the final three sets seemed best. It’s had its moments and will have more this season, but part of me also wants to see a straight up Mendes for Manyang swap at some point to run the 6-2 with D’Amico instead.
- Tech’s ticks: Three identifiers I’ve come up with that are clues Tech is not quite playing up to their standard: 1. the outside hitters rely on floaters instead of brute force attacks too often, 2. the team energy looks emotionally depleted, and 3. slow setting tempo by D’Amico out of system. If all three are simultaneously happening, it’s probably not a good sign.
- Otene’s get right game: After getting benched against San Diego, Otene came out swinging and swinging hard, finishing with 22 kills, her Georgia Tech high. Tech’s offense works best when all three of her, Mendes, and Bertolino are firing, keeping the ball movement balanced, and that requires all three of them be on the court together. The speed on her attacks looked much better tonight as well, a promising sign that the confidence is there and she just needed some time to get right.
Georgia Tech next plays Sunday at 1 p.m. at O’Keefe Gymnasium against NC State.
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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