Photo by John Nakano

The lady Jackets volleyball team begins ACC play this Friday at Maryland.

They enter conference play with a 6-6 record after playing in four preconference tournaments. In their last tournament at Tennessee, the team went 2-1 and looks to gain momentum from their performance.

The Jackets have had to replace several key members from last year’s team, such as former All-American Monique Mead, and players have had to step up in their absence.

“Kids like Monique Mead, Nicky Meyer and Bailey Hunter, who have made a positive mark on your program, aren’t replaceable,” said head coach Tonya Johnson. “But you go out and try to find kids who are just as athletic and have similar skill-sets and hope they are ready to step up to the plate and take the reins.”

As ACC play is just around the corner, Johnson is looking for the team to continue to improve throughout the season.

“I feel like we have improved in some areas, [like] our defense from a standpoint of our blocking and digging,” Johnson said. “I do believe we have some inconsistencies. Our offense is an area we have to continue to get better at and progress. It’s nice to see us digging 14 to 15 balls a set and averaging two to three blocks a set. Last year, we were a pretty tough serving team and I do feel like we carried that over to this year.”

The team’s goals were set for the three different phases of the season: the four preseason tournaments, conference play and postseason play.

“We’re entering the second phase, which is our conference play, and one of our daily goals is to improve every day in the gym,” Johnson said. “Competing for conference championships is always a goal, but we have to get better in some areas and get more consistent for us to become a better team and hopefully that starts this weekend at Maryland.”

“We don’t have any easy matches ahead of us.”

The schedule does not get any easier as the Jackets enter ACC play. Tech will have to host nationally ranked teams such as Florida State and North Carolina. Last season, the Jackets had an 8-3 conference record at home, but were just 2-7 at away games. They look to establish more consistency away from home this year.

Due to ACC realignment, the volleyball team will play three new opponents this season. Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh all join the schedule and help add to the overall depth of the conference. Next year, Maryland will depart to the Big Ten conference and Louisville will replace them.

“We don’t have any easy matches ahead of us,” Johnson said. “Our conference, from top to bottom, is a tough conference. Every night is going to be a dog fight and you can’t take the night off. Many teams have improved the last four weeks and we certainly have our work cut out for us. We’re trying to find some rhythm and establishing some consistency.”

Preparations for this weekend’s conference games have already begun as the Jackets look to start off conference play with a win. Watching film of opponents is a major way Johnson and her staff develop the game plan.

“We scout, break the film down and determine what kind of offensive game plan we will use. We determine who their main weapons are and try to learn as much as we can about our opponent,” Johnson said.

This will be the first season in a long time that the Tech volleyball team doesn’t play in-state rival Georgia. The game was called off due to conference realignment in the ACC, which added more teams to the schedule, but the rivalry will continue next season as Tech looks to win 15 out of the last 16 games against Georgia.