After an exciting opening weekend in which the volleyball team took down Georgia and opened the season by winning their first three games, the Jackets stumbled in their first road series of the season. Tech dropped two of three games in last weekend’s Blue Raider Bash at Murfreesboro, Tenn., falling against host Middle Tennessee State University in four sets and Ohio University in five sets before rebounding to sweep the University of Northern Illinois and emerge from the weekend 4-2 on the season.
In their first game of the tournament on Friday night, the Jackets battled a 2008 NCAA Tournament team in Middle Tennessee and fell in four sets thanks to an inconsistent performance. The game was fairly even early in the first set, as Tech took advantage of the MTSU squad’s mistakes to build a 7-6 lead, but the Jackets were unable to keep pace beyond that point in the set. The Blue Raiders took 14 of the next 16 points as they blocked five attack attempts and forced Tech to burn two timeouts, and the hosts eventually took the first set 25-14.
Tech managed to come back in the second set; after struggling to build a lead as MTSU fought to a 12-12 tie, the Jackets won four straight points and did not relinquish the lead en route to a 25-20 victory, tying the match.
The third set was similar to the first, as the Jackets stayed close early on before allowing the Blue Raiders to build a big lead. This time, Tech was down 8-7 when MTSU went on a seven-point run to build a 15-7 lead and force the Jackets to burn two timeouts. Tech was unable to put together a string of more than two consecutive points after that, and MTSU went on to win the set 25-20.
The Blue Raiders jumped out to a quick lead in the fourth set, winning the first four points, but the Jackets chipped away at their lead over time and eventually tied the game at 16. After a four-point run, Tech led 24-22 with a chance to win the set, but MTSU fought back to win the next two points. The teams battled through several tiebreaker points, and with the score tied at 30, the Blue Raiders finally took two points in a row to claim the set and the match. It was Tech’s first loss of the season.
“We put ourselves in a position to win set four and continue the match, but had too many mistakes at the end,” said Head Coach Tonya Johnson in an interview with ramblinwreck.com.
Freshman outside hitter Monique Mead once again led the team in kills with 13 and contributed to seven blocks, but she also had ten attack errors. Those mistakes were the story of the day for the Jackets, who hit .143 as a team; the only player to record a hit percentage above .200 was sophomore outside hitter Bailey Hunter, who hit .364 and recorded 12 kills. Junior libero Jordan McCullers led the defensive effort with nine digs.
Saturday afternoon’s game pitted the Jackets against the defending Mid-American Conference champions in Ohio University. Tech got off to a good start, winning the first three points of the first set and eventually going up 10-6 thanks to two kills apiece from sophomore middle blocker Asia Stawicka and senior middle blocker Brittany Roderick. The Bobcats were unable to put together a run of more than two points until late in the set, and Mead recorded five kills and an untouched service ace as Tech won the first set 25-21.
The Jackets built up a three-point lead in the second set, but Ohio fought back to tie the game at 15; after Tech took the next point, the Bobcats went on a 7-1 run to take a 22-17 lead, and they cruised to a 25-19 victory to tie the match at one set apiece.
An early 10-3 run for Ohio in the third set put them ahead 12-6, with Ellen Herman and Megan Simons combining for five kills during the run. While Tech fought back to within one point at 16-15, the Bobcats would hold the lead for the remainder of the set. The Jackets won three consecutive points with the set on the line, but Ohio finally took the set 25-21 on Herman’s seventh kill of the set.
The fourth set was even early on, as neither team was able to build a lead of more than two points. With Ohio up 16-14, though, the Jackets took nine of the next 11 points, forcing the Bobcats’ front line into several mistakes to build a 23-18 lead. Ohio fought back at the end, but a kill by Tech senior outside hitter Chrissy DeMichelis sealed the 25-21 victory and tied the match.
Ohio was in command throughout the fifth and final set. The Bobcats took the first four points and quickly went up 8-2. Hunter earned five kills in the set to keep Tech in contention, but Ohio still cruised to a 15-8 victory to take the hard-fought match.
Mead and Hunter matched their kill totals from the MTSU game with 13 and 12, respectively, and Roderick had a season-high eight kills. Despite the strong kill totals, though, the Jackets were once again victimized by a low hit percentage, as they hit just .172 compared to .266 for Ohio.
Tech earned a win over Northern Illinois in the Blue Raider Bash finale. NIU led for most of the first set, and until the end of the set they prevented the Jackets from any runs of more than two points. With the Huskies up 22-20, though, DeMichelis recorded back-to-back kills and followed up by teaming with Roderick on a block as Tech rallied for four straight points. After NIU added a point, DeMichelis landed another kill to clinch the set 25-23 for the Jackets.
The second set was even early on, and eventually the Huskies had a 10-9 lead. From there, Tech went on an 11-2 run as Roderick had two kills and freshman outside hitter Susan Carlson landed two service aces to give Tech a 20-12 lead. NIU responded quickly by winning six of the next seven points, but two Hunter kills pushed the Jackets to complete the 25-20 second set victory.
In the third set, the teams battled evenly throughout, as neither side was able to build a lead of more than two points until the very end. With the score tied at 21, Tech took four of the final five points to win the set 25-22 and take the match. Hunter had a team-high 16 kills, and DeMichelis hit .375 with 11 kills as the team’s hit percentage rose to .281 for the match. McCullers had 20 digs, and junior setter Mary Ashley Tippins had 40 assists.
“I’m proud of our team for the way they bounced back after tough losses to two very good teams. We have to…learn how to finish matches to become a better team,” Johnson said.
The Jackets return home this weekend for the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic. They will take on Clemson tonight in their first game against an ACC opponent, then face Southeast Missouri State and Mississippi tomorrow.