ATLANTA — To begin ACC play in O’Keefe, #13 Georgia Tech Volleyball defeated the NC State Wolfpack 3-1 (25-23, 25-21, 23-25, 25-21), ending NC State’s 10-game win streak and moving to 11-1 on the season (box score). The win was also Head Coach Michelle Collier’s 100th ACC win at the Institute.
Tamara Otene led Tech with 16 kills and 13 digs for a double-double. Larissa Mendes and Liv Mogridge also broke the 10-kill mark. Bianca Bertolino was one kill away from a double-double with nine kills and 10 digs. Tech finished the game hitting .275 to NC State’s .224.
The day was largely defined by NC State keeping balls alive and outswinging Tech, albeit not that successfully. While having 21 more attacks than the Jackets, NC State committed seven more attack errors than Tech on top of five more service errors than Tech, which could be all accounted by Kristen McDaniel’s five errors. Neither team truly broke away from the other throughout the course of the match, serving as a great test for Tech to play a close game for four straight sets.
Tech started a little slow in the first ten points, going down 4-1 on digging mistakes by Otene and Paola Pimentel, but they quickly got back in it, tying the game at five on a DeAndra Pierce dunk shot. A Jacket three point run with two Bertolino kills up 9-7 prompted a Wolfpack timeout. It may have helped Tech more in the end, as in the next few points Tech found gaps in the back line for kills, plus NC State’s Skye Stokes was having problems returning Bertolino’s serve, prompting another timeout with Tech up 13-7 at the end of the run.
Collier made the swtich to a 6-2 formation up 16-14, inserting Heloise Soares and Smiley Manyang in place of Bella D’Amico and Larissa Mendes. During their time on the court, Tech won five of the next eight points to grow the lead to 21-17 and create the gap needed to put away the set. Tech had six set points to work with after a Bertolino ace to go up 24-18, but gave away five of them, including via Pimentel’s third reception error of the set. Otene came in clutch to put it away 25-23.
Tech in the second set came out guns blazing. Mendes hit two kills early, both D’Amico and Pierce nailed blocks, and Otene landed two kills to force an NC State timeout with Tech up 8-3. Tech lead remained between 4-6 points until the 15-10 mark when Collier switched to the 6-2 rotation again. NC State went on a three point run, one where Tech started looking offensively lazy, forcing a GT timeout. The Wolfpack extended the run to four points before an Amanda Rice attack error ended that. Back-to-back Manyang kills put Tech up 18-15 and forced NC State’s second timeout.
After switching back to the 5-1 and growing the lead to 21-16, NC State went on a three point run to force Collier’s second timeout up 21-19, mainly to give D’Amico time to reset after multiple setting miscues. Collier subbed in Deren Cukur, who made an immediate impact assisting on three of the next four Tech points to help win the set 25-21.
The Wolfpack had the upper hand early, going up 3-0. Collier successfully challenged a no-tip call that ended the run there to start Tech’s own three point run (Collier would go 3-4 in challenges for the game). Collier went to the 6-2 formation much earlier in this set, bringing Soares and Manyang in leading 5-4. That rotation had its own three point run to go up 8-5. The Wolfpack countered immediately with a 6-1 run to go up 11-9 and force Tech’s first timeout.
Then things got tight and stayed really tight. The score was tied nine times through errors and minimal solid offense on both sides. Tech only hit .125 for the set, both teams traded service errors twice, not even half of the 48 points in the set were earned by a kill. It came down to two Tamara Otene attack errors that flew very long that gave NC State just barely enough of a gap to win 25-23.
Tech forced an early timeout for NC State during a four point run that put them up 8-5 spurred by multiple Wolfpack attack errors. Tech held the lead to 14-10 before allowing four straight Wolfpack points aided by a lack of power on their swings and bad setting, calling timeout at 14-14.
Collier switched to a 6-2 with Laura Fischer and Soares, which netted its own three point run to force a Wolfpack timeout at 17-14 GT. The Jackets went on another three point run stalled by a missed tip call that was even reviewed, putting Tech up 21-17. That missed call started a three point run for NC State that forced Collier to call timeout up 21-19. D’Amico and Mendes subbed back in with Tech up 22-19, which even with some shaky sets, D’Amico made some critical digs while Bertolino won a 50/50 ball en route to finishing the afternoon winning 25-21.
- D’Amico’s setting: A big thing I noticed today was that Bella D’Amico’s setting was not up to her usual standard. Multiple balls were going too far behind hitters to allow a full swing, and her positioning at points would impact how well she could get to a ball. Off days will come, and this may have been the one for her. Deren Cukur subbing in to close the second set was the first time since D’Amico took over the starting role that she has been one-for-one subbed in a critical moment. Thankfully, Collier has depth she can go to when players are having an off game.
- Little mistakes: I’ll credit NC State for being such a nuisance today. Time and time again they were making heroic digs that woudl give them another chance to get a kill or allow Tech to make a mistake, which would happen. Bertolino for one had to dial down her power serve multiple times because she was hitting too many errors. As mentioned, D’Amico was not on her A-game. Back line communication at times was not great. Paola Pimentel early on struggled with serve recieve. They added up to a lot of points where Tech couldn’t get a full swing on the ball and relied on tip shots or their blocking, about that..
- Continuing to adjust: As great as Tech is, this is by no means a finished product. Only D’Amico and Pimentel are in the same spots they were last year. Bertolino took Julia Bergmann’s spot on the floor, Otene took Bertolino’s, Mendes took Otene’s, and then the middle blocking core is brand new with DeAndra Pierce and Liv Mogridge. Basically, nothing is the same as last year. Every set is teaching Tech how to play together nearly from scratch. For me, this means the occasional bad set like we saw in Clemson are going to happen, but that the upside we saw in non-conference play was no mistake. The talent is absolutely there, it just like every other team needs time to gel.
Georgia Tech next plays Friday, September 29 at Virginia Tech at 4:00 p.m. on ACCNX.
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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