Georgia Tech freshman outside hitter Julia Bergmann, a candidate for ACC freshman of the year, in a September 27, 2019 match against Syracuse at O'Keefe Gymnasium. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech volleyball team hoping to get off NCAA bubble

Georgia Tech volleyball coach Michelle Collier will be with her team at O’Keefe Gymnasium Sunday night when they learn their fate with the NCAA tournament.
The Yellow Jackets finished the season hot, winning 13 of their final 14 matches. The only loss was to ACC champion Pittsburgh, and that was on the road in five sets. Tech was the only conference team that was able to extend the Panthers, who were a perfect 18-0 in league play, to the five-set max.

Collier, in her sixth year coaching the Jackets, is hopeful that this is the part of the team profile that the selection committee considers most strongly.

“I don’t think there’s a team in the country that wants to play us in the first round, so I think they need to be looking at all that, for sure,” Collier told the AJC Saturday.

Collier, however, also realizes that her team, which was ranked 57th in RPI — the rating used to rank teams based on strength of schedule — through last Sunday and only added a road win over No. 137 Miami since then, is about 10 slots outside of the range for teams to typically secure at-large bids.

“But I think 10 points in the RPI, what is really the difference for a team that’s playing the way that our team is playing, home and away?” Collier asked.

At 21-8, Tech would seem a classic bubble case as it seeks its first NCAA berth since 2009, one whose resume offers obvious positives along with warts, starting with its RPI. Does a strong finish outweigh a slow start? How does convincingly beating a relatively weak set of teams sit with the committee?

There’s more to recommend the Jackets — they finished second in the ACC behind Pitt at 14-4, ahead of likely tournament teams Florida State, Louisville and Notre Dame. Of their 13 wins in the final 14 matches of the regular season, they swept nine of them, showing consistent performance.

“I think that they should look at those things,” Collier said. “They should look at not only your wins, but how you’re dominating the competition a lot of times.”

They’re 12th nationally in hitting percentage and 18th in kills per set, and Collier expects four or five of her players to receive All-ACC consideration, including outside hitter Julia Bergmann, a freshman of the year candidate who is fourth in the ACC in points won per set, and middle blocker Kodie Comby, leading the ACC in hitting percentage.

“We’re playing high-level volleyball, and I think that if they’re looking at making this tournament the best they can, then they should be looking at teams like us,” Collier said.

But Collier recognizes that its RPI is troublesome. The results that created it poke other holes in its resume. Tech is 2-6 against RPI top-50 teams and 4-7 against top-100 teams, although it won two of its last three matches and the third was its near upset of Pittsburgh.

The Jackets also played five matches against teams north of 200 and 18 against teams 100 or higher, and its strong finish was on the backs of teams with weaker RPI rankings.

Also, while Tech finished on a roll, the Jackets, with a young roster, started out 8-7. To the degree that the committee considers every match the same, that wouldn’t bode well.

“Our preseason (non-conference) schedule, we played some really tough away matches,” Collier said. “At home, we didn’t play that many tough teams, but we did play some historically good teams who just didn’t end up having a good season, So those are a lot of things that are outside of our control.”

It makes for an intriguing case. Regardless, it has been a compelling season. Picked to finish 11th in the ACC after finishing 10th last season at 6-12 in the league and 18-15 overall, the Jackets have caught the league’s notice and will be in strong position to make a tournament appearance in 2020, as the team loses only one starter (Comby).

And if the Jackets don’t get the sought-after bid, they’ll play in the NIVC, volleyball’s version of the NIT. Tech will spend Sunday waiting to see if the selection committee can look past its RPI. Collier said that the committee typically has relied heavily on the metric, “but there have been some outliers every year, so we’re hoping that we’ll be one of those situations this year.”

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