Tech entered the week ranked fifth in the country staring down a pair of top ten opponents in the Ohio State (OSU) Buckeyes and Brigham Young (BYU) Cougars for their annual Georgia Tech Classic. The action opened on Thursday, Sept. 8, pitting the Jackets against No. 10 BYU. The first set started off sluggish for Tech with BYU lunging out to a 4-1 early lead. The Cougars maintained the lead up until the Jackets made a big 10-2 run which made it 16-12 in favor of Tech. BYU would not fall easily though, as they came back to knot it at 17, but a huge block from junior outside hitter Tamara Otene sparked the fire the Jackets needed to win the set 25-20. The second set provided a similar story as BYU sprung out to an early lead only to be caught by Tech due to fantastic defensive play from graduate senior middle blocker Breland Morrissette and sophomore outside hitter Bianca Bertolino. The Jackets marched out to a 20-15 lead behind a 6-0 run but faltered a little bit before putting a nail on it at 25-21.
With Tech now up 2-0, victory seemed inevitable and the promise of a sweep against a top ten opponent energized the crowd. Tech stormed into the third set going up 6-0 immediately. With some huge kills from senior outside hitter Julia Bergmann, the Jackets found themselves up 17-4. A demoralized BYU made an attempt at a comeback, but it was too little and too late as Tech took the third set and the match 25-14.
Tech surpassed expectations in this game. Overcoming some early miscues and serving woes, the Jackets were able to leave no doubt that they were the better team to open the weekend. The question was now whether Tech could do it again but this time against a tougher opponent. This being the first win against a top ten opponent this season and a shutout as well, hopes were set high for Sunday when Tech would face off against No. 8 Ohio State. Come Sunday, it was apparent from the first serve that the Buckeyes came to play and they were fully committed to blocking any attempt at a kill from Bergmann. In the first set, OSU and Tech exchanged points until an early 5-0 run from Ohio State put them up 8-4. From there, a mix of Tech miscues and Ohio State execution led to an eight-point deficit that proved too hard to overcome as the Jackets fell short at 25-19.
The second set opened the same as the first with an even exchange of points, but this time the Jackets stung the Buckeyes with an explosion of points that fired up the crowd and massively swung momentum to the Tech sideline. Tech led by as much as seven until an Ohio State attempted comeback that was shut down by a Bergmann kill. Tech ran away from there and finished the set off with a 25-21 win.
With the match knotted at 1-1, the third set promised excitement, but unfortunately it did not come early for Tech. The Jackets fell into a 13-5 deficit quickly as Bergmann was unable to get anything past Ohio State’s front line, who were sometimes even triple teaming to block her spikes. Bertolino and senior middle blocker Erin Moss stepped up big time for the offense though and found points, allowing Tech to mount a fierce comeback that brought it to 15-13, a 10-2 run for the Jackets. The crowd erupted with energy following the comeback and O’Keefe was raucous as the Buckeyes took a time-out to try to stop the huge momentum swing. Unfortunately, some Tech miscues propelled Ohio State up by five late and despite some huge kills from Moss and Bergmann, Ohio State took the third set 25-21 and it looked grim for Tech.
The fourth set put the Jackets in a new position this season: playing to keep the match alive. Both schools went back and forth until Tech broke off a 5-0 run to go ahead 16-12. The anxiety was high in O’Keefe as the Jackets looked to hold on to the momentum that would hopefully launch the game to a fifth set. However, Ohio State put together an 8-1 run to go up 21-19 and it looked like Tech would be handed their first loss of the year. Tech did not go down easy though and they knotted it at 23-23 before falling 25-23 to the Buckeyes and losing the match 3-1.
The weekend did not finish how Tech imagined and hoped, but there were definitely some major takeaways from both games. There are some serving issues that need to be addressed as quite a few serves either did not make it over the net or were simply out of play on the back end. However, a lot of the team got to play and it was a showcase of Tech’s talent as it was clear that Tech has the depth to make a run this season. The Jackets look to rebound as they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Ark. on Sept. 15. The Jackets take the No. 7 ranking this week’s matches.