Athens, Ga. --- Under the guidance of second-year Georgia head coach Joel McCartney, the Bulldog volleyball program continued to make positive strides on the court in 2008. The Bulldogs posted an overall record of 17-14 that included a 10-10 mark in Southeastern Conference matches, and the 10 league wins were the most by a Georgia squad since 2003.
After leading the Georgia program to its biggest single-season turnaround in 2007, McCartney was poised to reach a career milestone of his own in 2008. With the Bulldogs' 3-0 defeat of Furman on August 31 in the Georgia Bulldog Invitational Tournament McCartney achieved his 300th collegiate-career head coaching victory. Helping him earn that win where freshman setter Kathleen Gates and middle hitter Valentina Gonzalez, who were named to the all-tournament team.
The Bulldogs also played in two other tournaments during their non-conference slate, the Duke Invitational and the Texas Invitational. At the Duke Invitational, senior outside hitter Maria Taylor recorded a 32-kill match against the Blue Devils, which made her just 1-of-13 players in the nation to record a 30-kill match during the regular season. Taylor along with sophomore outside hitter Lindsay Gehan earned all-tournament honors at Duke. At the Texas Invitational, Taylor again earned all-tournament honors alongside sophomore outside hitter Erika Clark as the Bulldogs wrapped up non-conference play with a record of 7-4.
The conference slate did not start out the way the Bulldogs had planned dropping their first four matches. As the season unfolded, it became clear that those contests came against four of the top five teams in the league. Nevertheless, Georgia quickly rebounded to win its next match versus Arkansas behind Gehan, who was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week. That victory set Georgia on the right path as it would win seven out of eight matches including a streak of six straight. The six-consecutive SEC victories marked the longest league winning streak at UGA since 2003.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the season was the final victory in that winning streak as Georgia upset the No. 8-ranked Florida Gators in Athens, 3-2. The win by the Bulldogs snapped a 45-match losing streak to the Gators, which dated back 18 years to October of 1990. Furthermore, the victory marked the first time Georgia had defeated a ranked opponent since Sept. 7, 1995. Prior to defeating Florida, the Bulldogs also posted a 3-2 win over South Carolina, and for their efforts in those matches Taylor and Gates earned weekly honors. Taylor earned her second SEC Offensive Player of the Week recognition of the season and was also named the Sports Imports/American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I National Player of the Week. Gates earned her first-career honor from the SEC as she was named Freshman of the Week.
While the remainder of the conference season from that point saw the Bulldogs go 3-5 and falling just shy of making a berth into the NCAA Tournament, Georgia still finished with 10 conference victories for the first time in five years. Both Taylor and Gates went on to earn postseason awards as well. Taylor was unanimous second-team All-SEC selection for the second-consecutive season, while Gates was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team.
Gates was one of four freshmen, along with middle hitter Ann Dylla, libero Carla Tietz and defensive specialist Tomoka Matsuyama, who contributed significantly in 2008 as members of the Bulldogs' first-ever ranked recruiting class. Gates paced the offensive with 1,128 assists (9.64 per set), while Dylla had 139 kills to go along with 110 blocks, which ranked second on the team. Adding to the defensive side of the net, Tietz led the team with 378 digs while Matsuyama provided 156 digs.
Not to be outdone, Georgia returned five sophomores including a trio of starters in Clark, Gehan and Gonzalez. Clark nearly joined UGA's 300-300 club as she ranked second on the team with 288 kills and 367 digs. Gehan finished third in kills at 266 and also added 70 blocks, a category that Gonzalez led with 118 stops (1.01 per set). Gonzalez also contributed 220 kills. Fellow sophomores Simone May and Kelsey Burkett provided the Bulldogs with depth at outside hitter and defensive specialist, respectively. May played in nine matches recording nine kills, while Burkett saw action in 25 matches recording 46 digs and seven aces.
Georgia had two players careers come to a close in 2008, seniors Anjelica Partridge and Taylor. Partridge provided Georgia with depth at outside hitter playing in 15 matches and was named the SEC Community Service Team for a second-straight year, while Taylor finished her career ranked as one of the best players in school and SEC history. Taylor finished her career ranked third at Georgia in attacks (4,517), points (2,020.0), fourth in kills (1,729), fifth in kills per set (3.97) and sixth in points per set (4.64).
McCartney finished his second-year at the helm of the Georgia program with a record of 34-27. His UGA winning-percentage of .557 is the second-best start to a Georgia coaching career after two seasons.