The women’s volleyball team marked the end of a road trip that lasted nearly a month, coming home to face ACC opponents Florida State and Miami in conference play this past weekend at O’Keefe Gym. Tech, which entered the weekend with a 10-3 overall record, swept the Seminoles 3-0 on Friday but fell to Miami 3-1 on Saturday.
The return home provided an opportunity for the team to recuperate. “We get an extra day of practice to prepare at home, we get to sleep in our own beds and we get normalcy on a daily basis. And I think most importantly, [the girls] get to come and play in front of people who will support them,” said Head Coach Bond Shymansky.
That crowd was a key in Friday’s game against Florida State. Fueled by the raucous support of hundreds of Tech fans, the team cruised to a 3-0 victory over the Seminoles.
“That’s our advantage of playing in O’Keefe Gym. The fans are so big behind us, and give us so much juice every night we step out on the court,” Shymansky said.
The Florida State game also marked a special occasion—the Jackets’ third “Dig for the Cure” event. To raise money for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the team collected pledges from fans, parents and other supporters for every dig that a Tech player recorded during the match. The team’s 45 digs raised nearly $1,500, adding to the $13,000 the team rose the previous two years. Additionally, the pink jerseys that the players wore on Friday will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the Komen Foundation.
“We’ve just played really great defense the last few weeks to raise funds for that cause. Breast cancer is a big deal to us, a women’s team, and a lot of [the players] have mothers, or grandmothers, or aunts, or just friends and relatives who are fighting breast cancer, so it’s really something that’s directly impacted our team,” said Shymansky.
The event served as added motivation for the girls, who played with a great deal of excitement and energy from start to finish.
Tech held a slight lead for most of the first set behind excellent defense and ball control. Junior outside hitter Chrissy DeMichelis led the attack early on as Tech built up a 14-8 lead. Tech’s attack fell off a bit, though, and Florida State rebounded to close the gap to 19-18. Freshman middle hitter Asia Stawicka helped Tech regain momentum, recording a kill and a block on consecutive plays to give Tech a 21-18 lead. The Jackets won the first set 25-21.
After several lead changes at the start of the second set, Tech went on an extended run to win the set 25-16. The defense remained solid, matching its block and dig numbers from the first set, and the offense looked strong, with four kills each from senior middle hitter Callie Miller, senior outside hitter Talisa Kellogg and junior outside hitter Brittany Roderick.
The third set was fairly even from the start, but Tech took command and closed out the match with a 25-17 victory. The attack remained strong, and the defense held the Seminoles to a hit percentage of .000—nine kills and nine errors. Defensively, the team held Florida State to a hit percentage of .067 and recorded 10 blocks.
Senior libero Michelle Kandell led the team with 14 digs and also had two of the team’s four service aces. On offense, Kellogg’s 11 kills led the way, with Roderick and Miller posting seven each, and setters sophomore Mary Ashley Tippins and senior Allie Niekamp notched 17 and 15 assists, respectively.
The momentum of the win at home was also key as the team prepared for Saturday’s game against Miami. “We always talk about the Friday game, the first game of the week, and how important it is to create momentum for the second game,” Kellogg said.
That second game was expected to be significantly harder, as the Miami Hurricanes had won their first twelve games—seven by 3-0 sweeps—before losing to Wake Forest and Clemson. Miami entered Saturday’s game at 12-2, the best overall mark in the ACC.
The first set was close from start to finish. Tech held a slight lead most of the way, and toward the end they were up 21-17. However, they struggled to close out the set, and Miami won eight of the final ten points to take the set 25-23.
In the second set, a combination of several Miami miscues and a strong Tech attack allowed the Jackets to put together a six-point streak and take a 10-3 lead. Miami recovered, though, and later went on a five-point run to close the gap to 20-18. Tech’s players recovered their composure, and DeMichelis notched the final two kills to win the second set for Tech 25-21, evening the match at one set apiece.
In the third set, the Hurricanes went up 6-0 and never relinquished the lead, winning the set 25-19. Tech could not muster a lengthy streak in the set, winning three consecutive points only once. Meanwhile, Miami added to its early streak with a five-point run that put them up 15-7 from which they went on to win the set.
The fourth set saw six lead changes and 14 ties as Tech battled hard to stay alive. Late in the set, Tech managed to grab the lead and went up 22-19, but once again they could not close, and Miami fought back to a 24-24 tie. Tech won the next point, putting them in position to win, but Miller’s serve went long, so the game ended up tied again. An extensive rally fell in Miami’s favor, giving them a 26-25 lead, and the Hurricanes won the next point as well to win the set 27-25 and the match 3-1.
Kellogg led the team with 18 kills, followed by Roderick’s 14 and DeMichelis’s 10. Three players also recorded at least 10 digs, led by Kandell’s 19.
“The FSU game really helped us [gain momentum]. [Against Miami] the work ethic was definitely there, but the points just fell the other way.” Kellogg said.
“[Miami] played really scrappy defense. Their players flopped all over the floor and did everything they could to keep the ball alive, and that frustrated our offense after a while.” Shymansky said.
Shymansky also stressed the team’s need to improve at closing out sets. “We got up big in game one and didn’t have the sense of urgency to close it out, and we need to learn that as a team…and it was the same thing in game four—we were up and had the opportunity to close it out, and we just have to play with a greater sense of urgency for every point,” Shymansky said.
Following the tough loss, the 11-4 Jackets will remain at home to face Duke and Wake Forest this coming weekend. “We’ve just got to come back and work on some things, probably watch a little video, and work on the things that we need to get squared away,” Kellogg said.
“You play 20 matches in conference play and 30 on the season, so you can’t let one match define you or get you down. Our team’s a pretty resilient bunch, so I’m confident in them,” Shymansky said.