Entering as the 20th-ranked team in the country, the Jackets marched into their first official games of the season at the Road 2 Tampa Bay Invitational. Tech showed great strength in their exhibition match against the Auburn Tigers, winning four of the five sets played. Looking to carry this momentum into Tampa, Tech matched up against a pair of opponents for the weekend: South Florida and Penn State.
The South Florida (USF) Bulls, the host of the invite, were the Jacket’s first challenger. The first set saw an energized Bulls team rally behind their home crowd as they leaped out to a 14-9 lead early; however, Tech woke up fast and pushed a comeback to knot the set at 21-21 in the final stretch. The Jackets rallied to score four of the last six points and took the first set 25-23.
The second set saw Tech return to the typical dominance the program accustomed itself to versus unranked opponents. The Jackets poured it on a 13-point scoring spree in a 15-point stretch, putting them ahead 21-8. It was all but over in the last few points as Tech took the 2-0 lead in the match with a definitive 25-12 second set victory. The third set was simply a formality as Tech went on a 14-0 run and ran away with the match in a 25-13 third set. The Jackets grabbed their first win in a resounding sweep over the Bulls, moving Tech to 1-0 on the year.
The second of Tech’s opponents was tougher, as the Penn State Nittany Lions came into the match as the eighth-ranked team in the nation. Seeking their first ranked win of the season and 29th in program history, the Jackets played point for point with the Nittany Lions in the first set; however, the breaking point came with the game knotted at 18 when sophomore middle blocker Liv Mogridge got a kill that sparked a four-point run. The Jackets maintained the lead, emerging victorious in the first set 25-21.
The second set saw an even exchange of runs from the two teams, but ultimately Penn State strung together two four-point surges that pushed the set out of reach for Tech at 24-18. The Nittany Lions took the second set 25-20, evening the match at 1-1. The third set, again, started with runs from both sides, but Tech put on a clinic in a five-point surge that put the set at 18-11 in the Jackets’ favor. From there, the team easily ran away with the third set in a 25-19 victory.
On the cusp of a massive ranked win, Tech looked to take the match in the fourth set with their 2-1 edge. The Jackets jumped out to an early 6-3 lead and never looked back. Advancing the lead on almost every serve, Tech cruised to a 25-16 fourth-set victory, gaining their first ranked win of the season and the third-highest-ranked win in program history.
The two game invitational saw Tech’s veterans make the biggest impact as junior outside hitter Bianca Bertolino, senior outside hitter Tamara Otene and senior setter Isabella D’Amico owned the floor. Bertolino led the team in the USF match with 15 kills and a .448 hit percentage, while D’Amico tallied 28 assists. Otene led the way for the Penn State game with a double-double on 17 kills and 15 digs. Bertolino also had a double-double against the Nittany Lions on 10 kills and 14 digs, while D’Amico had 46 assists.
The offense was heavily reliant on the veteran trio, and the three shined when it really mattered. However, the team is in need of depth if they are to make a serious run. New players need to step up, and Mogridge appears to be the player to watch. With the veterans playing at such a high level, the team looks to have no drop off from last year’s level of play. The Jackets now jump up to 11 in the national rankings and look to continue climbing after an undefeated start to the season. Tech travels to the 2022 Elite Eight finalist Ohio State for two games against the Buckeyes and looks to avenge the loss to them last year.