Volleyball sweeps UCF Challenge, starts 4-1

Tech volleyball swarms the court after knocking off then-12th ranked Penn State in their first match of the season. The win against the Nittany Lions is the biggest of Tech’s four wins through their first two weekends of play. // Photo courtesy of GTAA

No. 16 Tech volleyball started off the season hot in their first three matches of the year at the UCF Challenge, including beating No. 12 Penn State on their way to winning the Challenge. Tech, which came into the season ranked 24 in the coach’s preseason poll, was led by senior Mariana Brambilla with 21 kills. The first set saw an intense back and forth battle between the teams, with Tech pulling away on a five-point streak to build a 20-16 lead. Penn State, down 0-2 after losing the second set, battled back in the third set, winning with a secure 25-17 lead.

The fourth promised to be a battle, but was finished after a string of kills by senior Breland Morrissette, freshman Bianca Bertolino, and Brambilla.

The upset, led by Brambilla and junior Julia Bergmann with a total of 37 kills, was the highest ranked win for the Jackets since 2003, and their first win over a ranked opponent since 2017.

Later that day, Tech lost the first set to the University of Central Florida (UCF), but rallied quickly to sweep the rest of the match behind a double-double from Bergmann and Bertolino’s first double-double of her college career.

The final match against St. John’s was a 3-0 sweep (17,16, 20) that began with the Red Storm going up 6-1 in the first set. Tech came right back with an 11-point run that included seven Bertolino kills before running away with the rest of the match.

The tournament win boosted Tech to 16th in American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) top 25, their largest one-week jump in program history as they headed into the Long Beach State Tournament.

After coming out of their first tournament with momentum, the Jackets split their games at the Long Beach State Tournament, beating host Long Beach State before falling to No. 18 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for their first loss on the season. Bertolino stood out, continuing off her strong performances in the UCF Challenge, and led the Jackets with 21 kills in a dominant 3-1 win.

The team came close to a sweep, losing the second set in a close 33-31 game. The fourth set was anything but tight, with Tech sealing the match on a 25-15 win.

Tech’s next game came against No. 18 UCLA, a team that made the NCAA tournament last year. Brambilla led the team in kills; her 17 kill game was five greater than Bergmann, who had the second highest tally. Despite their play, Tech lost their first match of the season to the Bruins, falling in four sets.

UCLA marked the third time this year that Tech played an opponent who made the tournament last season. The goal of the tough schedule is simple — play as many competitive teams as possible to enter the tournament prepared. The schedule, built by head coach Michelle Collier, stands as a test for a team that hopes to make the NCAA tournament for the second time in a decade, with the previous time being last season.

As the Jackets season begins to ramp up in intensity and conference play approaches, the team looks poised to enter with momentum from an early season upset over a highly ranked opponent and a 4-1 mark.