Volleyball steals a road win at No. 2 Pittsburgh
SOMEWHERE IN THE MOUNTAINS OF NORTH GEORGIA — What jinx? Who said anything about a jinx? Certainly not me, and certainly not in this here column one week ago. No way! For those who missed out, this week we’ll be talking Golf, Tennis, Swimming and Diving, and, of course, Volleyball earning its biggest ranked win in program history. Let’s get down to business.
Polls – Coaches: 8
Nerd Stuff – Sagarin: 16
Georgia Tech was in tournament action up in the Hamptons this past week. Though they initially were off to a slower start than usual, they stood in driving range of the lead with 18 holes to play at the Maidstone Club. Characteristic of their usual tenacity and fight, the Jackets fought their way back to force a three-way tie for first with familiar Northwestern and Virginia, the former of whom they were previously acquainted with the week before, as Tech had just attended the Wildcats’ tournament. The decisive round saw some excellent golf played, as Tech was able to shoot a 12 under par 276 in the last 18 holes, good enough to card the low round in tournament, and with Ross Steeleman, Bartley Forrester, Connor Howe, and Christo Lamprecht all under par for Tech’s scoring golfers. In the individual standings, Steeleman finished just behind the leader, good for second, while Forrester and Howe tied for 7th. The tournament represented Tech’s second win in three tries this fall. They will be in action in two weeks at the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate, a three day tournament in Alpharetta to close out the fall slate.
It was a mixed weekend for the contingent of the men’s tennis team that went to the Bulldog Invitational this weekend in Athens. In a combination of doubles and singles competition, Tech sent three athletes east and came back with an even .500 singles record — Brandon McKinney, Pablo Schelcher, and Angél Melgar Guerrero all went 2-2 — but an 0-3 record for the doubles pairing of Schelcher and Melgar Guerrero.
However, in Tulsa, Chen Dong, Keshav Chopra, Marcus McDaniel, Andres Martin were all also in competition at the ITA All-Americans tournament. Dong and Chopra were seeded in the pre-qualifying draw, with Chopra receiving a bye and going 1-1, while Dong did not and went 2-1. Dong and Chopra were also paired for doubles play, and fell in a very close 6-4, 7-6 match to a pair from Ole Miss. In the main singles draw, McDaniel was upset in the first round, while Martin was able to win deeper into the bracket. He ultimately fell in the Round of 16 in two sets to Gabriel Diallo of Kentucky. Similarly, Martin and McDaniel entered doubles play ranked the no. 8 team in the country and won their first match, but ran into trouble after splitting two sets with a pair from Athens, where they fell in a tiebreaker.
Tech competes next in the Commodore Invitational in Nashville this weekend.
Neither Rosie Garcia Gross nor Kate Sharabura lost a singles match this weekend in Statesboro, which is always a delightful thing to be able to say, and the doubles teams for Tech also spent the entire weekend in the win column. The doubles pairings for the weekend were Gia Cohen and freshman Kate Sharabura alongside Sophia Sassoli and Rosie Garcia Gross. Granted, the competition on the weekend were mostly mid-major schools, but it is great to see Tech getting back into the groove and trying to pick up where they left off with their recent postseason success.
Tech will head to Florida this weekend to compete in the ITA Southeast Regionals.
Regarding men’s and women’s tennis rankings: neither ITA list has team rankings yet, and if anyone in the readership knows a good place to find other ranking systems for tennis I may be missing, besides ITA and Massey, feel free to let us know in the comments!
Swimming and Diving
Swimming and Diving, too, lack rankings and polls at this early juncture of the season. In anticipation of writing this column, I even went to the CSCAA website, but the preseason poll portion of the website is currently blank, and there’s no way there have been enough swims nationally for the CAP to return anything of value. Thus, this week, we’re looking at Tech in a little bubble, and what a nice little bubble it was.
Tech travelled down to Savannah and trounced the bizarro version of Georgia Tech: an art school from Savannah whose mascot is a bee. Tech came out on top, winning 106-23 on the men’s side and 108-23 on the women’s competition. In all seriousness, the anti-parallels between these two schools are pretty interesting, all things considered. Maybe some day, the point of the semiannual meeting with SCAD will make sense to me, but today is not that day. SCAD is NAIA, while Tech fields a pair of top-30 Division 1 programs. It was quite a showing for both of those acclaimed teams, too, as a few freshmen in particular put together some noteworthy swims.
It’s great to see the freshmen contributing right away for the women, given that their class had a fair amount of buzz about it. As Tech has locked down the Turkish recruiting scene in recent years, it is fitting that the top swim from the day came from Turkish freshman Defne Tacyildiz in the 200 fly. Her 2:00.01 was good for 8th in program history in the first meet of the season. Meanwhile, in the sprint free, Rachel Fulton and Sophie Murphy turned in excellent swims in the 50 and 100 free, respectively. If the women are to improve as a team, it is imperative that their sprint freestyle improves, as it is a cornerstone of essentially every relay, and relays are worth a tremendous haul of points. This improvement is a great sign.
Meanwhile, on the men’s side, great swims from young members Matt Steele and Mert Kilavus in the 200 breast and 500 free are a sign of depth in recruiting for them, as well. This, all in all, was a solid start to the season. Tech will host storied rival Florida State for a dual at McAuley Aquatic Center in two weeks on October 23rd.
Overall: 13-3 / Last Week: 2-0
Polls – AVCA Coaches: 18
Nerd Stuff – RPI: 12 | Massey: 13
Alright, I’ve strung everyone along long enough, it is well past time to discuss what is absolutely the biggest news of the week, Tech’s upset of No. 2 Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon. Of course, in order to do that, it is also worthwhile to mention the 3-0 sweep of Virginia to open the weekend on Friday night. Tech stormed out of the gates in every set, and, if recollection serves, never once trailed in any set during the match. The first two sets were reasonably close, as the Cavaliers were able to keep the Jackets from piling on two many points, falling 25-18 and 25-19. However, in the third set, the levee broke, and the points came pouring in. Again staying reasonably close in the first half of the set, the tides turned against the Hoos when, trailing 14-8, Kayla Kaiser went to the line to serve, and serve she did. Tech was able to douse any hope of a Cavalier comeback with 11 straight points, with longtime stellar contributor at outside hitter Mikaila Dowd knocking home the final point with a kill. All in all, it was a great decisive win, and very helpful to stop the two game skid Tech had been on, which, in all honesty, has become an unusual experience over the last three seasons of Tech volleyball. But, let’s be real, you aren’t here to read about Tech and Virginia, no, you’re here to get the scoop on the program’s most prolific win of all time, a five set barnburner on the road in Pittsburgh.
The story of this game truly begins, in my humble opinion, two years prior to this match, also in Pittsburgh. For those who either don’t remember the match in particular or are newer to following Tech Volleyball — both of which are perfectly fine, we’re glad you’re along for the ride now — Tech had started the 2019 season a fine if not particularly remarkable 8-7. The previous season, aided by a tremendous influx of freshman talent, Tech had started 8-0, only to go 8-14 (6-12 in ACC play) the rest of the season, which made sense given both the schedule caliber of the non-conference slate and the relative youth of the roster. However, it was nevertheless an exciting season, and Tech was even selected to host the opening phase of the rebooted NIVC tournament, essentially a free ride into some fun postseason volleyball for the first time since the 2009 season, and particularly noteworthy in volleyball, given that the coaches voted to replace the conference tournament following the 2004 season and replace it with 6 extra conference games, which have since slowly been whittled down to just two more than preceded the discontinuation.
Anyways, after starting 8-7 against a decidedly more Power 5-heavy lineup, and including a spell of games without some of that star now-sophomore talent, Tech proceeded to right the ship after a dry 0-2 road trip to perennial conference first-division finishers Louisville and Notre Dame. From that point until the Pittsburgh match, Tech would drop just four sets total on a scorching hot eight game win streak. Coming off an emotional win the previous weekend that saw Tech score ten in a row with Kaiser in service to force NC State to a decisive fifth set in Reynolds Coliseum, the hottest team in the ACC was set for a second straight week on the road that started with a visit to the home of the squad that have been the ACC’s unquestioned best team since their arrival in the conference in 2013.
To be frank, that game played out a whole lot like yesterday’s. A top ten Pittsburgh, wind at their back, let Tech hang around enough that the Jackets found themselves with two sets to their name and a chance to hang around for a win in the fifth set. However, in 2019, Tech just narrowly didn’t have enough for a win, literally coming as close as possible to a win in the fifth as one can possibly be without leaving with the victory.
After that game, one in which there was a definitive feeling of “what could have been,” Tech finished the season on a ten game winning streak, ending in a run to the NIVC title. Of course, there was a distinct air around the absence of Tech from the NCAA tournament field, but the RPI wasn’t quite there, truthfully, but could very well have changed with the outcome of the Pittsburgh game.
Of course, there’s a whole 2020 season, one in which Tech did play a match in Pittsburgh standing in the middle of my redemption arc narrative, but, really, all of 2020 was odd due to COVID, and, even with Tech qualifying for their first NCAA tournament in 13 years, there was a distinct aura of incompleteness to last season that I find trickles over into essentially all of sports. So, in 2021, with the season picking up where past Tech teams have left off, it is only logical that there would be an exclamation and a red circle drawn around the match in Pittsburgh.
In the intervening time, Tech has lost just eight matches. Last weekend represented the first losing streak Tech has had since October 2019, ironically also at the hands of Notre Dame and Louisville. If there was any better setup to a Tech redemption against a top-ranked Pittsburgh, a Tech team that had just gone through its first sustained adversity in two calendar years is probably the right way to set it up. So, with 1,000 words of background out of the way, how did Tech manage to walk out of Fitzgerald Field House with their highest ranked win in program history?
Tech played from behind in the first set, and behind they would stay on the way to a narrow four point loss. Despite spotting the Panthers a 5-0 lead, Tech slowly and steadily managed to but themselves in a position to tie the set late, when the score was 22-21, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Pitt. In the second set, things were more back-and-forth, with a narrow edge going to Tech, who won the set by a 25-23 margin. The story of the set was likely the erratic give-and-take as the match shifted from the Pitt initiative to that of Tech. Examining the box score, Tech was decidedly more effective on the attack, upping its hitting percentage from .167 to .324, however the Panthers outpaced even that, seeing theirs rise from .296 to .345. Pitt even held the advantage in errors, limiting themselves to 2, five less than Tech, but what Tech may have lacked in hitting percentage or accuracy, they made up for in sheer volume. And, in that, Tech raked in 19 kills on the set, which ultimately made the difference.
In the third, Tech managed to add another set to their total, with the Jackets also outhitting Pittsburgh by a significant margin (nearly .100) and Tech did much to limit their errors. Despite all of this, Pittsburgh came out hot and was leading by 5 early in the set. Thus, Tech was digging out of a deficit once more, and only managed to clear Pitt by two points when they hit the 25 point mark in the third. However, a set win is still a set win, regardless of the margin. Thus, Tech stood on the precipice with a 2-1 advantage headed into the fourth set.
Pitt, though, was not about to go quietly, and though the fourth set started neck-and-neck like the second, the Panthers laid in a long point streak, despite Tech leading by as many as three themselves, and only continued adding to the lead as they cruised to a rather comfortable seven point win, setting up the fifth set.
In the final set, a peek at the box score is deceptive. One can see a colossal .592-.118 margin in hitting percentage and think that Tech ran away with the set — especially considering Tech won by 6 — but that completely belies the very real fact that Tech and Pittsburgh were tied as late as 9-9. What Tech was able to do in the set was a combination of what had worked the whole match — brutally effective hitting and passing — and added a drastic decrease in their errors. Although we’ve already noted other famously excellent runs of service in recent memory for Tech, one should not count out the excellent presence Julia Bergmann has had at the back line. In the fifth set, she turned in a truly excellent series, helping put Tech on the way to six points in a row, closing out the match. Pittsburgh challenged twice in the last two plays, neither of which stood. Tech took the match over no. 2 Pittsburgh, 3-2 in 5. The win represents Tech’s highest ranked win since no. 12 Penn State (2021), no. 8 California (2003, NCAA tournament), and no. 5 Nebraska (2003). Again, it all feels like it has been a long time coming.
Tech is in action next week on the road at Clemson midweek and hosting Duke on Sunday.
In the Club House:
Uh, so Tech played Alabama-Huntsville on the road this weekend in a pair of games on Friday and Saturday. In the two games, they surely assuaged any leftover rivalry angst from last weekend, as the Jackets absolutely throttled their hosts, to the tune of 34 goals in two games. Perhaps they noted that it was the 105th anniversary of the Cumberland football game last week, who’s to say? Anyways, the final scores were 15-1 and 19-2, respectively, and that’s about all there is to say about that – absolute domination.
For all the time I’ve spent scouring Twitter looking for the results from this team, I would have had better luck just looking at Instagram. The Tech team, which had been playing very well the last time we checked on them in person before the pandemic, seem to have not missed a beat in 2021, as they sit 4-0 on the season after defeating Mississippi State 7-0, Kennesaw State 8-1, Alabama 6-0, and the school in Athens 3-0. Tech heads to Clemson for a tournament this weekend before a game back in Atlanta against Emory to close the fall slate the following weekend.
As for the men, well, there have been no updates on Twitter — or, as I now know to check, Instagram — and we’ll take a look at some other sports that we have dredged up from the midst of non-Twitter social media in coming weeks.
10/13 — at Clemson
10/17 — vs. Duke
10/15-17 — Commodore Invitational, Nashville, TN
10/14-18 — ITA Southeast Regional, Lake Nona, FL
10/15 — Penn State National Open, University Park, PA
10/16 — vs. Troy
10/17 — vs. North Georgia