2000 Georgia Volleyball Season-In-Review
Athens, Ga. --- At the outset of her first season in Athens, Georgia volleyball coach Mary Buczek asked for a commitment from her players that included hard work, discipline and a strong mental approach. In turn Buczek told the team if it were to uphold that commitment throughout the course of the year then it would in fact see a difference from the previous year by season's end.
Both parties held up their end of the bargain and the result was a Georgia volleyball team that captured its most victories since the 1997 season.
“Last season was a good experience for both the players and the coaches,” said Buczek, who guided the Bulldogs to their first SEC Tournament appearance in two years. “In terms of working with the team it took time making the transition for all of us and I feel like in the end we were where we needed to be.”
Despite winning only five of their 14 SEC matches during the regular season, the Bulldogs maintained the course that Buczek established for them. A course which she figured would have the team playing its best volleyball by season's end.
“I'd like to think that by the end of the year we will be competing with some of the top teams in our division and conference,” Buczek said during preseason workouts last August.
Her words would turn out to be prophetic at the SEC Tournament in Gainesville, Fla., where Georgia, who entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed, drew the No. 3 seed South Carolina, who had knocked off Georgia twice during the year in decisive fashion and was entering the tournament with the league's second-best record.
After five grueling games, including a game-tree nail biter in which the Bulldogs staved off seven game points, it was Georgia that was standing tall, knocking off its nemesis and advancing the semifinals of the tourney, its first semifinal berth since 1997.
While the SEC Tournament would see Georgia gain its biggest triumph of the season, it also provided a reminder of the perils of having a talented team without the experience to match at times. In the semifinals of the SEC Tournament against the No. 7 seed LSU, Georgia seemed unable to solve the riddle of a team which it had dispatched of in three games one month earlier. Georgia's brush with success was as sudden as it was complete.
“I'm thrilled we beat South Carolina in the SEC Tournament, but at the same time I was disappointed in that I felt we could play better against LSU,” explained Buczek. “I talked to the team in between games two and three (of the LSU match) and I said that talent does not always win and right now desire and effort is winning. I knew in the back of their minds they thought this could be easy.”
A tough setback? Yes. But also a lesson learned that will not be forgotten anytime soon, particularly for Kristine Keese and Stacy Buerger, who along with fellow teammate Erin Gornes will be the three seniors expected to guide the team's fortunes in 2001.
“The SEC Tournament was exactly a summary of our season in terms of how we proved that we could beat a great team like South Carolina,” said Keese.” But we could never do that consistently and that showed in our match against LSU.”
Added Buerger, who became the first Bulldog to be named First-Team All-SEC since Kathy Vis in 1997, “Obvioiusly talent wise we had the ability to beat most of the teams we played. Often times we lost to teams we should have beaten. I think the SEC Tournament was a perfect example of what we can do when we give 100 percent and everyone is doing their best and putting their heart into it. And then the LSU match showed what can happened when we don't do those same things.”
In addition to the aforementioned All-SEC honors, Buerger was also named to the SEC's All-Tournament and All-Academic teams. For the second-straight year the Marietta, Ga., native led the Bulldogs in kills and finished second in digs. In addition to Buerger's play, several other Lady Bulldogs contributed to Georgia's new found success. Gornes nearly tripled her hitting percentage from a year ago and along with Keese gave Georgia one of the more formidable middle blocker duos in the conference. Gornes was named Second-Team All-SEC following a season in which she led the Bulldogs in blocks and hitting percentage.
At the setter position, the combination of senior Iskra Perez and freshman Kilee Goetz provided Georgia with a variety of options in terms of what they could do offensively as each player tallied more than 600 assists for the season.
And looking toward the future, it would appear Georgia found a new start in the form of freshman Luresa Forsythe, whose 319 kills were the most for a Lady Bulldog freshman since Rebecca Dady tallied 498 in 1996.
“I think Luresa came in and did a great job,” said Buerger. “She was one of out top players. To be a freshman outside hitter in the SEC is pretty tough and I think that she handled that pressure pretty well.
Despite making leaps and bounds from last year, Buerger said the team could have accomplished so much more.
“If this were my senior year then I would be really disappointed in my play and how we did as a team,” said Buerger. “I think that we are a young team but we cannot use that excuse anymore. We are just as young as some of the other teams out there and we should have won more matches that we didn't win. I wish we would have been more consistent in our play.”
While others share the sentiments of Buerger, Buczek said the best thing the team can do is take the experience and learn from it. A team realizing it should have come out of the victors after the fact is simply a case of the team needing to know it can win from the get go so that it is not left lamenting what could have been. While the team was stunning in its upset over the Gamecocks and also showed those same flashes of brilliance many times throughout the season, only experiences like what it endured in the SEC Tournament will help Georgia to ascend to even greater heights in 2001.
A belief in themselves with Buczek's constant doses of positive reinforcement serving as the catalyst was one of the biggest reasons why the Bulldogs felt they were successful in 2000 and why they will be able to take it even further in 2001.