Coming off a 2-1 weekend at the Georgia Tech Classic, Tech opened up ACC competition away against Clemson in need of a momentum shift. Tech was ranked 13th in the AVCA poll, while Clemson remained unranked.
The first set was a back-and-forth affair. After resting the previous match against San Diego, senior outside hitter Tamara Otene led the Jackets in the first set with seven kills. Late in the set, Tech found themselves down 17-21, but Head Coach Michelle Collier smartly called a timeout to reset her players’ mindsets and the Jackets began to climb back. A service error by Clemson, combined with a kill by junior outside hitter Bianca Bertolino put the Jackets within two. That did not stop the Tigers — they hung onto their narrow lead, leading to a double set point and a chance to take control of the match. However, the Jackets’ resilience showed up as they battled back to tie it at 24-24. This boxing match continued with each team taking swings at each other until Clemson ultimately won the set 31-29.
At the beginning of the next set, the Jackets struggled, quickly dropping six of the first nine points. After multiple attack errors by Clemson, the Jackets climbed back into the set and eventually found themselves even at eight. Then, Tech showed why they are a top 15 team. A kill by senior setter Isabella D’Amico, followed by one of freshman outside hitter Larissa Mendes’ 13 kills, sparked a Jackets run. Even with multiple timeouts used by Clemson Head Coach Jackie Simpson Kirr, the Tigers could not handle the continued pressure. The Tech runs continued and culminated with the Jackets winning the set 25-13.
The Jackets continued to press on the gas to start the third set. Multiple kills by Otene, Mendes and sophomore middle blocker Liv Mogridge gave Tech an early lead to begin the third set. While the Tigers tried to fight back, consecutive blocks by Bertolino lengthened the lead to four, and then a six point service run by D’Amico gave the Jackets an advantage too big for the Tigers to overcome. Ultimately, Tech took the third set 25-15 as the Tigers had lost the momentum they had after winning the first set. The Jackets, however, continued to roll throughout the entire 4th set, winning 25-16 to capture the match in a 3-1 victory. Otene highlighted the win with 22 kills and a .300 hit rate, while Mendes contributed 13 kills at a .400 rate. Fifth-year libero Paola Pimentel led the team with 21 digs and D’Amico led with 39 assists.
Following the win against Clemson on Wednesday night, the Jackets faced off against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on Sunday afternoon. While the Wolfpack were unranked going into the matchup, they were on a 10 match winning streak, including a 3-0 win over Clemson. The Jackets came out running in the first set, opening a 14-9 lead featured by pairs of kills from Bertolino, Mogridge and Otene. While NC State climbed within one-point of the Jackets multiple times, the Jackets continually responded with runs of their own. Even though Tech struggled to win set point, instead losing it five times in a row, they finally broke through winning the first set 25-23 thanks to a kill by Otene.
Similar to the first set, Tech came out swinging early, securing a 9-3 lead in the second. The lead remained four to six points throughout a good portion of the set thanks to some sloppy play by the Wolfpack and outside dominance from Otene. Towards the end of the set, NC State began to mount a comeback, but Collier wisely subbed in graduate middle blocker Afedo Manyang, who followed up her entry with consecutive kills on the right side. Leading 22-20, Bertolino displayed her dominant serve. A kill by Mogridge off a fantastic assist by freshman setter Deren Cukur set up a win for the Jackets. Mendes would finish off the set 25-21, and the Jackets were up 2-0 on NC State with all the momentum.
NC State did not go away without a fight. The Wolfpack entered a figurative fistfight with the Jackets throughout the third set. When either team gained an advantage, the other team bounced right back. The largest lead for either team throughout the third set was just three points. Ultimately, Tech’s sloppy play and service errors along with some unlucky breaks were too much to overcome as NC State’s right side hitter, Amanda Rice, closed out the third set for NC State 25-23 with a powerful kill. The fourth set felt similar to the third, as it was hard for either team to pull out to a commanding lead. About halfway through the set, both teams were tied at 14, but the home crowd worked in Tech’s favor. Their energy provided a much-needed spark in the team. Collier subbed in junior right side blocker Laura Fischer for that spark and she delivered. A perfect set from freshman setter Heloise Soares led to a Fischer kill to make the lead 19-16. Tech was then able to cruise into the finish line, closing out NC State with a monstrous kill from Mendes, winning the match.
The win over NC State was a huge accomplishment for Tech as it was Collier’s 100th ACC win and put them at 2-0 in conference play. Mogridge finished the match with 10 kills at a .692 rate: her best performance as a Jacket. While the Jackets will hit the road for the next couple of weeks, Tech will return to O’Keefe Gymnasium on Friday, Oct. 13th to square off against the Florida State Seminoles in a big ACC matchup.