Georgia’s Path to NCAA Tournament Tougher after LSU Loss

By Ben Wolk

Georgia huddles before the start of the game.

Georgia huddles before the start of the game.

Georgia’s path to reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 became a little bit tougher with the team’s loss to LSU Friday night.

After the Bulldogs’ five-set defeat against the Tigers, Georgia’s record fell to 17-8 and 7-6 in Southeastern Conference play, dropping the team into sixth in the SEC.

The loss put a slight damper on the team’s postseason hopes, but with six matches left in the season, there is still plenty of time for the Bulldogs to get back on the winning track before the NCAA tournament field is finalized.

“We just have to maintain the same focus, not get too high off a win or too low off a loss — just keep the same consistency we’ve had all season,” senior Brittany Northcutt said. “We’ve had great success, better than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here.”

The 64-team NCAA tournament field is created from the 31 automatic qualifiers who win their conference. The remaining 33 teams earn at-large bids based on RPI, which is derived from winning percentage, strength of schedule and a variety of other statistical categories.

Georgia ranked 31st in the nation in RPI heading into Friday’s contest.

The Bulldogs were 37th in RPI when they made the NCAA tournament back in 2004, so a potential national tournament bid is well within reach.

“That was a goal for us,” Georgia head coach Lizzy Stemke said. “But, we’re really not talking about that because every match in the SEC is so important and every match for us right now is about improving and continuing to gain momentum.”

That path will continue Sunday when South Carolina comes to Athens to play Georgia in the Ramsey Center. The two teams faced off Oct. 11 in Columbia, S.C. with Georgia pulling out a dominant 3-0 victory.

“We have a game Sunday, so it’s a quick turnaround,” senior Allison Summers said. “We have to learn from our mistakes today. We have to make sure we make those changes quickly and come back Sunday and defend our home court.”

And home-court advantage is sure to play a huge role in the six remaining games of the regular season with four of the six set to take place in Athens.

The Bulldogs sport a 10-2 record at home this season with the team’s only home losses coming against Alabama Oct. 25 and Friday against LSU.

Georgia treasures the opportunity to make a final run for the NCAA tournament on its home floor.

“We’ve had a long season of traveling so far, so it’s great to be able to end most of our season at home,” Summers said. “This is the most I think. Of all my four years, we’ve never had this many fans. They are very supportive, extremely loud and have our back, so these last four games here, I’m very blessed and grateful to have this crowd behind me.”

Nonetheless, with Georgia’s first-legitimate chance of reaching the NCAA tournament in a decade, Bulldog players relish in the reality that their preseason goals are so near.

“I know everyone’s really excited, and that’s our main goal,” Northcutt said. “It’s been our goal for the past two years. It’s really cool to know we’re on the right track to do that. It was a tough one tonight, but we have to come back Sunday focused.”

Georgia vs. LSU- Game Notes

Athletic Director Greg McGarity and UGA President Jere Morehead watch as UGA faces LSU.

Athletic Director Greg McGarity and UGA President Jere Morehead watch as UGA faces LSU.

Big Names Present

Noticeably present at the volleyball match in the Ramsey Center on Friday night were

University of Georgia President Jere Morehead and Athletics Director Greg McGarity. With tonight’s game considered pivotal for a berth in the approaching NCAA tournament, which Georgia has not competed in since 2004, Ahead of the Pace caught with them to talk about the magnitude of tonight’s game.

“This is a big match tonight for the women’s [Volleyball] team,” Morehead said. “If they win this, they have a chance to stay on track for an incredible and successful season. I thought I needed to be here to support them.”

McGarirty, who was sitting alongside Morehead while taking in the match, also emphasized the importance of this night.

“These matches this weekend are very critical for volleyball, as they go towards the end of their season,” McGarity said. “We are trying to earn our way into the NCAA championship.”

While so many consider the University of Georgia to hold a “football school” title, McGarity also took the opportunity to talk about the importance of fans supporting all teams across the university’s athletic landscape.

“We want to be a comprehensive program that excels in all sports,” McGarity said. “While football is the most popular and profitable, we have 14 other head coaches and we want to support them all and show them that they are just as important as everybody else.”

Georgia senior Brittany Northcutt prepares for the kill.

Georgia senior Brittany Northcutt prepares for the kill.

Northcutt Records another Double-Double

With 12 kills and 11 digs, senior Brittany Northcutt now has seven double-doubles on the season and 20 in her college career. She also recently recorded her 1,000th kill in the game against Ole Miss in Athens. Northcutt is only the 16th Bulldog to achieve the feat. To read more about Northcutt’s consistent season, click here.

Time and Attendance

The match between Georgia and LSU lasted 2 hours and 18 minutes, and 1,205 people were in attendence. At home, Georgia holds a record of 10-2. Much of the team’s success in Athens may come from the energy of the crowd and the comfortable atmosphere it creates.

Georgia Volleyball Unable to Pull off Final Comeback against LSU

By Austin R. Vaughn

Georgia senior Allison Summers serves the ball.

Georgia senior Allison Summers serves the ball.

In a key conference match, the Georgia volleyball team fell to LSU 3-2 on Friday in Athens.

Georgia and LSU traded sets, but the 26th-ranked Tigers (15-7, 5-5 SEC) pulled away at the end (25-27, 25-20, 22-25, 25-21,11-15) to put their conference record at .500.

The No. 32 Bulldogs (17-8, 7-6) defeated the Tigers in their first matchup of the season in Baton Rouge to open conference play for both teams. But despite a close fight, Georgia fell at home Friday for only the second time this season.

LSU took a tight first set 27-25 with the help of sophomore Cati Leak (6 first set kills, 7 first set digs), junior Malorie Pardo (7 first set digs) and freshman Briana Holman (7 first set kills).

But it was the Bulldogs who looked poised to take an easy second set.

However, LSU wasn’t going down without a fight. With Georgia at set point, the Tigers scored five consecutive points before serving out of bounds to give the Bulldogs the set, 25-20.

In the third set, Georgia trailed by eight points three separate times before launching an exciting, but ultimately unsuccessful, comeback that left it on the wrong side of a 25-22 decision.

The Bulldogs kept themselves alive by taking a close fourth set, which included 10 ties. The final set started rough for Georgia as it fell behind 0-5. But a timeout speech by head coach Lizzy Stemke rallied the team to tie LSU at 5. Ultimately, It was the Tigers who won the set, 15-11, which clinched the match and their 15th win of the season.

“At that point, forget about the scoreboard, lets change the mentality of how we need to approach this game,” Stemke said, “They came out and put a nice run together, but we were chasing all match. And that is hard to come back from over and over and over again. One or two times is one thing, but when you are in a deficit game in and game out, it’s tough. And LSU took advantage of that.”

Senior libero Allison Summers said that the Bulldogs are already focused on their next match and will not linger on the loss.

“Each game we play is the most important match,” Summers said. “We just gotta take it game by game and play our all. We have to play our best in and out no matter who we play.”

Coach Stemke and senior Brittany Northcutt stressed consistency going forward.

“I think the mentality that our coach puts to us is not to worry who we are playing across the net,” Northcutt said, “[We] just worry about our side and do the same thing every game, and the results will come. Maybe not tonight, but we worry about our side.”

The Bulldogs will attempt to win their 18th game at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday against South Carolina at the Ramsey Center. The last time Georgia earned 18 wins was in 2004 when it advanced to the NCAA tournament.

Northcutt’s Consistency has Bulldogs Flirting with NCAA Tournament

By Logan Booker

Georgia senior Brittany Northcutt waits for the serve from LSU.

Georgia senior Brittany Northcutt waits for the serve.

The Georgia volleyball team is experiencing one of its greatest and most successful seasons in many years as it continues to play on the NCAA tournament bubble. One reason for the newfound success has been the emergence of senior Brittany Northcutt. Averaging 12 kills per game over the last crucial month of the season, Northcutt has helped keep her team in the conversation from every corner of the court.

Northcutt has been a valuable piece of Georgia head coach Lizzy Stemke’s three seasons in Athens. Being able to play all six rotations, a rarity in the realm of college volleyball, Stemke considers her the most valuable player on the court.

“She has been a player that has really put the team on her back at times,” Stemke said. “She takes a big load as our only player that plays all six rotations. She is the one player that we really rely on to play all skills.”

Stemke has witnessed first hand the evolution of Northcutt over the past three years.

“She has really embraced her role and gotten us through some big matches with the responsibility that we put on her back. It’s been a huge load to carry, and she has handled it really gracefully.”

Northcutt’s teammates have also taken notice of her leadership amongst the team. Fellow senior Allison Summers has played beside of Northcutt for the duration of their careers, and has no problem admitting who the most valuable player is on the team.

Brittney is definitely one of our go-to players and really has been since our freshman year,” Summers said. “She is one of those consistent players that we can always look to. She is just a well-rounded players that we can always look to if we are in a rut, if we’re ahead, and we can just always look to Brittany to keep our calm.”

Northcutt’s consistency this season has been a culmination of hard work over the last four seasons.

“Myself and my teammates go hard everyday in practice, and it shows in the games,” Northcutt said. “When you put the effort in in practice, it certainly ends up showing on the court.”

With no intentions on leaving volleyball behind after college, Northcutt has plans to pursue the game on the overseas European circuit.

“I want to continue to play,” Northcutt said. “I love volleyball. It’s definitely in my mind to play overseas if that is ever possible.”

Whether the 2013 version of the Georgia volleyball team goes on to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 9 years has yet to be determined. But one thing that cannot be taken from this season is the consistency of Northcutt, who has set them up to at least be in the conversation, which is more than the program can say in quite some time. Leaving her fingerprint on the team, Northcutt should help the team remain in said conversation for the foreseeable future.

Brittany Northcutt’s Consistency

(Click on the images to enlarge.)

Georgia Looks to Continue Home Success, Pick up Key SEC Win

By Connor Riley

Georgia senior Allison Summers serves the ball for the Bulldogs.

Georgia senior Allison Summers serves the ball for the Bulldogs.

No. 32 Georgia will take on No. 26 LSU in a key Southeastern Conference matchup Friday at 7 p.m. at the Ramsey Center. This will be the second time these two teams have met this season, with Georgia winning the first matchup 3-2 in Baton Rouge.

The first time around the Bulldogs (17-7, 7-5 SEC) were able to beat the Tigers (14-7, 4-5) on the road for the second straight season, doing so in five sets (24-26, 25-21, 16-25, 27-25, 15-9) in what was the opening SEC game for both teams. Georgia is currently fifth in SEC, and LSU sits in eighth.

Senior Allison Summers, who had a career high 38 digs the first time these two teams met, said that being able to play teams more than once in a season is “definitely a good thing.”

“LSU has made some changes to their lineup since they last time that we played them,” Summers said. “But we know their tendencies for the most part.”

Having already faced the Tigers once, the Bulldogs generally know what to expect come Friday.

“LSU is a scrappy team that moves around the court a lot,” Georgia head coach Lizzy Stemke said. “We will not be surprised by the tenacity that they will undoubtedly play with, and we need to be aggressive from point 1 to end game.”

Junior Kaylee Kehoe, who had 29 assists in the first game against LSU, said that even though the team already beat LSU this season, it can’t rest on its laurels.

“It’s the ‘second round’ as we call it when we start to play SEC teams twice,” Kehoe said. “And every team gets better. They have a different lineup than the last time that we played them.”

Georgia is 10-1 at home this season, with the lone home loss coming against Alabama.

“We love being at home,” Stemke said. “We have had some great crowds and fun atmospheres this season and we always look forward to the comforts that home brings.”

The home crowd not only brings a level of comfort but also creates an energetic atmosphere that helps the team get excited to play.

“We have had some of the biggest crowds that I have ever seen in my four years here this season,” Summers said. “Being 10-1 at home has a lot to do with them and [the fans’] ability to push us and get us pumped up. We also know how everything works here and we are really comfortable playing here, which is part of our success here at home.”

In the SEC, five teams — including Georgia and LSU — are separated by only two games in the loss column. With the season coming to a close, and so much still undecided, Stemke knows what a win would mean.

“There is a large grouping in the middle of the SEC right now and these next two weeks will determine some of that spread,” Stemke said. “Every match is crucial at this point.”

With only six games left, one win or loss could determine the fate of a team’s post-season plans. Qualifying to the NCAA tournament would be a feat the Bulldogs haven’t managed since 2004.

“It’s our most important one yet,” Kehoe said.