Photo by John Nakano

College volleyball has been back in action for a month now, which can only mean one thing: conference play starts soon. And for the Jackets, “soon” is 7:00 p.m. this evening. The Jackets, riding high on an impressive 9-3 start to this year’s season, begin conference play today on the road with a match against the 5-7
Clemson Tigers.

When the Jackets entered conference play last season, they were only one game above 0.500 and started things off on a bad foot by losing to the Duke Blue
Devils 3-1.

However, that was last year, and this year’s Jackets are poised to show drastic improvement in comparison to their ACC performance that began twelve months ago today.

“Although [our] preseason performance was good, ACC play is what really matters,” says junior libero London Ackermann.

In a strong conference filled with perennial powerhouses such as Duke, Notre Dame and Florida State, performance against conference opponents is crucial to the success of season. The Jackets look to carry their early season momentum into their conference schedule.

Last year, in their first season under Head Coach Michelle Collier, the Jackets experienced some difficulty against their in-conference opponents, recording a 6-12 ACC record. Many players on last year’s squad were recruited by Tech’s former coach Tonya Johnson and may have had struggles when adjusting to the new coach. Because this is Collier’s second year at Tech, the players should be more used to her leadership.

When asked how last year’s transition was on a personal level, Ackermann, who had been recruited by Coach Johnson since she was 13, expressed sentiment.

“I kind of grew up knowing that I was going to play for her, … and it was difficult having to realize that someone who had been an influence on my life for so long wasn’t there anymore,”
Ackermann says.

However, after a 9-3 start to this year’s season, Ackermann and Coach Collier have figured out a way to ameliorate the difficulties of the transition.

“Michelle and her staff came in with open arms, and overall, it was a pretty easy process,” Ackermann said. “Based off of this year’s results, I think we are responding really well. I think everyone likes the new culture that we’re building and how everyone is getting along.”

The record agrees, but non-conference play is  less important in the long run.

“Everyone knows that at any moment they could be put in the game and that she [Coach Collier] has confidence in each individual player, which is a big step up from where we used to be,”
Ackermann says.

Ackermann also mentioned that playing Nebraska was a big help in preparing for ACC play. According to the team’s libero, who has already amassed 191 digs this season, Tech is prepared for ACC play on a basis of individual experience in addition to experience as a unit.

“I am pleased with the way we competed this pre-season,” Collier said after last week’s match against Kennesaw State. “We had some great games, and we know what makes us win matches and what makes us lose matches, so we will be working on keeping our strengths more consistent.”

When things are all said and done, Tech’s performance will be evaluated against their conference opponents. And London Ackermann, the libero who is a player that cannot be substituted out of a match and is designated to play only defense, will be looked at under closer scrutiny because her performance can often times dictate the outcome of matches.

So, with Tech’s volleyball team commencing its ACC schedule in a matter of hours from the time of publication, fans can only hope that the Jackets will use their experience and momentum to their advantage in ACC play. As for Ackermann, she only hopes for consistency.