Collier looks to bring back prestige of program

Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech Sports Information

After a disappointing 2013 season that saw the Jackets finish 12-20 (6-14 ACC), place twelfth in the ACC standings, and end with Head Coach Tonya Johnson resigning, new Head Coach Michelle Collier is looking to get the volleyball program back to where it once was–winning ACC Championships and competing in the NCAA Tournament.

“When I played in college and played against Tech, they were consistently going to the NCAA Tournament, consistently competing for an ACC Championship every year, and made it to the Elite Eight in 2003,” Collier said. “Just brining back that prestige about that program, putting ourselves back in the top half of the ACC and in a position to have a spot in the national tournament at the end of the year.”

In program history, Tech has made nine NCAA Tournament appearances, but only once in the last ten years, a 2009 appearance that ended in a first round loss to Baylor.  The first appearance came in 1994, and was followed up by two more in 95 and 96. The Jackets also had a streak of five consecutive appearances from 2000-2004. Collier hopes this is the type of consistency that can be brought back to the program.

“We don’t just want to get there and come back down. We want to bring back the consistency of how Georgia Tech was for about 15-20 years in the 90’s and early 2000’s when they were just a very consistent program,” Collier said.

Collier was hired from Jacksonville University, where she led the team to 30-4 record, an Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, and a birth to the NCAA Tournament in just her second year as head coach. Collier has been at Tech for almost four months now and is adjusting well to her new workplace.

“It’s been a smooth transition. Everyone that I’ve been around has just been so helpful and welcoming, so it was just easy to feel like you fit in right away. I’m always asking questions and knocking on doors, and asking how to do this or that,” Collier said.

Prior to Collier taking over at Jacksonville, the program had won just 28 matches combined in the previous two years. Collier went into the Jacksonville job with a three-year plan that she ended up reaching in just two, but with the competitiveness of the ACC, she knows it could take a little longer at Tech.

“I think the ACC is a really competitive conference and I think everyone is really level. It could be fast, or it could take a little longer than we planned. The goal is typically by my fourth year that we are getting to where we need to be. The first year is going to be hard. It’s going to have to be an evaluating year to just figure out what’s important for us and what I think is going to help us get there the fastest,” Collier said.

Collier has already begun evaluating and was able to work with her players some in the spring. She had a few weeks of training with them and the team participated in a few spring tournaments, but she was also back and forth between Atlanta and Jacksonville while finishing up with some things down there. She believes the players were open minded about what she was bringing in and were adjusting well to the change in coaching style. Collier does not have the mindset that there is only one way that volleyball must played, but instead focus on adjustments and being able to adapt as the match progresses.

“I don’t really have a specific style of how I want to run my offense. It’s going to vary from year to year, from the players I have, and the team I’m playing against,” Collier said. “I like to train my players to be able to adapt to different situations and to be able to play the whole game comfortably.  If we have to play a fast game, play a fast game. If we have to slow it down, then we’ll slow it down. The idea of my training is to just make every player comfortable with being able to do more than one thing and just be adaptable.”

Part of the reason Collier wants to her to team to be adaptable is because she believes volleyball is momentum driven and things can change in a fast. One example she gave is that if a player on the other team is playing much better than the team thought she would going into the match, then that’s something she said they will have to adapt to.

Not only will the Jackets head into the 2014 season with a less experienced head coach, the players themselves also lack experience. The Jackets have only five players returning who played in at least 20 of the 36 matches last season and have only one senior on the roster, outside hitter Courtney Felinski. Tech lost three key players–Jennifer Percy, Quinn Evans, and Kaleigh Colson– to graduation, and also lost sophomore Chanell Clark-Bibbs who transferred to Arkansas. Those four players combined for 63 percent of Tech’s kills last season. Annika Van Gunst leads all returning players with 121 kills in 2013.

Of the 13 players on this year’s roster, four are freshmen and five are sophomores. Although less experience is typically viewed as a negative, Collier sees it as an opportunity to spend more than just one or two years with the players she is inheriting.

“I think that’s a great opportunity because I’ll just have a better opportunity to get to know those players and help them reach their potential, therefore helping Georgia Tech reach our goal,” Collier said. “I was lucky to inherit a very talented group. They’re easy to work with, willing to make changes, and willing to work hard. I think it’s been a really good fit and hopefully we can translate that to wins on the court.”