The volleyball team begins a new season this upcoming Friday at O’Keefe Gymnasium as they host the Florida A&M Rattlers. The team looks to improve upon the moderate success they had last year, posting a 19-12 overall record and going an even 10-10 against ACC opponents. And though five of the team’s six starters graduated, the team has incoming freshmen in every position who have shown some promise in the preseason. Combined with the return of ten players from last year, this team is shaping up to be a dark-horse contender in the ACC.
Both setters from last year’s roster are returning in senior Kaleigh Colson and sophomore Callie Bivings. Freshman Rebecca Martin will join them in directing the offense on the court. Colson ranked second in the ACC last season in assists per set average and should continue to be highly productive in her senior season. She also logged 11 double-doubles and was fourth in the ACC in service aces, including a game in which she recorded a career-high seven aces. And she’s smart too, having been nominated to the All-ACC Academic Team for the past two seasons. Bivings and Martin will likely share the backup role.
Senior Quinn Evans and sophomores Ashtaan Horton and Chanell Clark-Bibbs return as middle blockers, defending against opposing hitters in the middle of the net.
Evans, who at 6’3” is the tallest player on the team, tallied 38 blocks in 53 sets played last year and should see more playing time with the departure of Annie Czarnecki. Horton will hope to make more of an impact this season after losing a year due to a torn ACL.
Clark-Bibbs looks to continue her freshman success, as she totaled 117 kills on the year and made the All-ACC Freshman Team. Her freshman performance may serve as inspiration for newcomers Lauren Pitz and Annika Van Gunst, who will have to compete for playing time in that position.
Three of the four outside hitters on the roster are upperclassmen. Seniors Jennifer Percy and Ivona Kolak, along with junior Courtney Felinski, will serve as great mentors for freshman Teegan Van Gunst. Percy and Felinski shared time in this position while combining for nearly 200 kills last season. With the departure of Bailey Hunter, expect each player to receive more playing time and put up bigger numbers this year.
Junior Zoey Morton and sophomore Wimberly Wilson are the team’s returning liberos/defensive specialists from last year. They will be joined by incoming freshman London Ackermann, and all three will be expected to fill perhaps the biggest hole left from last season. Morton and Wilson combined to play 93 sets for the team in 2012, while Ackermann was obviously still in high school. Liberos Nicki Meyer and Susan Carlson, who have since graduated, each played more than that individually, and put up stellar numbers as well. Morton will likely see the most playing time due to her experience. The development of these players will be an interesting storyline to follow and may determine the success of this team.
Even though these athletes are fiercely competing for playing time with each other, they are still developing some positive chemistry.
“This is a team that has responded and jelled with each other pretty fast,” said head coach Tonya Johnson, courtesy of ramblinwreck.com. “Our upperclassmen have welcomed our freshmen in with open arms and so it’s been fun to watch them jell together. It’s fun to see the respect that they have for each other, and that you know that regardless of whether they’re on the court or off the court they’re going to take care of each other.”
The coaching staff will remain the same as last season’s. Johnson will enter her fifth season as head coach, posting a combined record of 73-52 (.584) in her first four seasons. Craig Bere and Chuck Crawford will be the assistant coaches, while Brian Kues will serve as the volunteer assistant coach.
The regular season will begin with the annual Georgia Tech Invitational the weekend of August 30. The team will then travel to Albuquerque before returning for the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic. Conference play will begin on Sept. 27 when the Jackets play at Maryland. The first home ACC game will be against the defending conference champion Florida State Seminoles on October 4th. The Jackets will also host ACC newcomers Notre Dame and Syracuse, and play Pittsburgh on the road. The team plays 32 matches total, including 20 ACC matches.
Fans can get an early taste of the action at the annual Gold and White scrimmage game, which takes place this Saturday, Aug. 24 at 2:00 p.m. in the O’Keefe Gymnasium. It will surely be an exciting match as it will be the players’ last chance to battle for a starting position before the season begins. The event is free and open to the public.