Georgia Tech sweeps The Citadel for first-round NCAA volleyball win

The Georgia Tech volleyball team celebrates winning match point of its first-round NCAA Tournament win over The Citadel December 3, 2021 at O'Keefe Gymnasium. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)
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The Georgia Tech volleyball team celebrates winning match point of its first-round NCAA Tournament win over The Citadel December 3, 2021 at O'Keefe Gymnasium. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karni

Credit: Danny Karni

In the relative quiet of her drive to Georgia Tech Friday morning, Yellow Jackets volleyball coach Michelle Collier allowed herself a moment of reflection on the meaning of the day. Namely, her team’s first-round NCAA Tournament match against The Citadel, the program’s first tournament home match since 2004.

Collier said she was “just kind of looking back at the journey and really just excited, proud of the things that we have been able to accomplish here as a staff, as a group of players.”

That thoughtful interlude eventually gave way to bedlam, as the Jackets swept through the Bulldogs, carried through to the second round by ear-splitting fan support inside O’Keefe Gymnasium. A night 17 years in the waiting lived up to the anticipation, as the sellout crowd of 1,200 raised an unholy din in the noise-trapping gym.

“I mean, it was O’Keefe,” middle blocker Erin Moss said. “O’Keefe is crazy all the time. Our fans love us. I was just in Kroger the other day and I had some random guy go, ‘Oh, good luck on Friday.’ That’s just so weird to me. But (the atmosphere) was just amazing. It was electric and the fans were with us every step of the way.”

It was Tech’s 10th sellout of the season, the cacophony melding with a humidity that was undoubtedly brutal on the several dozen Citadel students in the stands, all required to wear their military dress, including wool jackets.

“The atmosphere was something that we’d never played in before,” said Bulldogs middle blocker Maddy Cardenas. “It was loud and it felt very heavy and it was intense, and we loved it. I think we thrive under an environment like that.”

Indeed, while Tech (24-5) was awarded the No. 8 national seed and The Citadel (14-12) was the surprise champion of the Southern Conference tournament, the Bulldogs were resolute, making the Jackets push for their 25-21, 25-15, 28-26 win. The Citadel was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the team was formed in 1998.

“Citadel played a great match,” Collier said. “Not an easy team at all. So we’re definitely very proud to come out of there with a sweep.”

The Bulldogs fought off five match points before a block at the net by the three-person wall of setter Isabella D’Amico, outside hitter Julia Bergmann and Moss secured the match for the Jackets. Tech will face Western Kentucky (which defeated South Carolina) Saturday at 7 p.m. at O’Keefe for a spot in the Sweet 16. The Jackets have not advanced to that stage since 2004.

Bergmann, who this week was named the ACC player of the year, admitted to being nervous at the start of the game.

“It’s a good nervous, but, yeah, it’s an important match,” Bergmann said.

She was the match’s dominant figure, blistering Citadel’s side of the court with a game-high 16 kills. At 6-foot-5 with superior leaping ability, Bergmann was a lot to handle.

“I think size is an intimating thing for us regardless of someone’s ability to hit or jump or block, anything like that,” Cardenas said. “You just look at them and you’re like, wow, she probably can do some amazing things. And she could. And it was just a matter of staying consistent with our game and making sure that we stick to what we know and do what we know well.”

Moss scored 10 kills, as did right-side hitter Mariana Brambilla.

Tech is in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, a first for the Jackets since making five tournaments in a row from 2000-04. Tech traveled through dry ground from there, making the tournament once from 2005-2019. Collier was hired prior to the 2014 season and has steadily raised the profile since. The Jackets reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year and can surpass that standard Saturday night.

It is one more step in the fulfillment of Collier’s vision for the team.

“It’s cool to see that if you work hard and you do the right things, then things start to happen, and it’s kind of what we preach to our team all the time,” she said.

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