Sep. 6—JACKSONVILLE — Who could blame Katie Montgomery for being tired?
She and her Jacksonville State volleyball teammates played a total of 13 sets in three matches over about 27 hours this past weekend at the Clemson (S.C.) Invitational. And, that time frame includes preparation for each match, food, sleep and, oh yeah, homework.
But, when you win all three of your matches, including one over host Clemson of the Atlantic Coast Conference, it all seems worth it, even if you lack much energy to celebrate on the bus ride home.
"It was super fun," Montgomery said Tuesday morning before embarking on a day full of class, volleyball practice and homework.
"I think we were all pretty tired after playing 13 sets. A lot of us, we slept or we talked to family, celebrating the win. But, it was really fun. It always feels good to come back 3-0."
After arriving in town Thursday, JSU beat The Citadel 25-22, 25-17, 23-25, 9-25, 16-14 on Friday morning, then beat Clemson 25-11, 21-25, 25-20, 20-25, 15-11 on Friday night. The Gamecocks returned to the arena Saturday morning to beat Gardner-Webb 25-18, 25-14, 25-14.
"I was talking to my teammates and said it feels like I'm playing club volleyball again," Montgomery said. "We would play three games a day in club, and even then, it was only nine sets because each game was to sets of three. I feel like I'm back at club because not only did we wake up at around 6:30, but we didn't get back until 9:30 or 10. It was a really long day, but it was fun to reminisce on those days and be able to do that with my teammates."
That win over Clemson was JSU's second this year over a team from a Power Five conference. The Gamecocks beat Indiana a week earlier, which was their first over a Power Five team since 2013. They hadn't beaten two in a single season since 2009.
It was an especially productive weekend for Montgomery, who was named the Invitational's most valuable player. She produced 29 kills, 14 blocks and seven aces in the three matches. Erin Carmichael (49 digs) and Claire Ochs (121 assists) also made the all-Invitational team.
"We train really hard and get in great shape for those five-set matches so we're ready for it," JSU coach Todd Garvey said. "I think that's one of the things we focus on. Our practices are a lot more competitive than a lot of matches we step into, and I think that relieves a lot of pressure because they've been in those tough situations in practices. So that really helped them. Also, their will to win and being competitive, that can help push you past your limits."
JSU is now 6-0 heading into its first home matches of the year. Hosting the Gamecock Classic, JSU will play Nichols on Friday at 11 a.m., South Dakota State on Friday at 7 p.m. and Samford on Saturday at 6 p.m.
After that is a Tuesday match at Alabama State, then consecutive home matches against Jackson State (Sept. 16), Southern Mississippi (Sept. 16), Auburn (Sept. 17), Central Arkansas (Sept. 23) and North Alabama (Sept. 24). The Central Arkansas and North Alabama matches are the start of ASUN Conference play.
"I think that's really cool this year that we have a team that we have a really good dynamic that we push each other to get the best out of each other," Montgomery said. "On the court, we have super competitive practices. We have some depth that allows us to do that, and I feel really lucky that I have a team that's going to get the most out of me, and I feel like I can help get the most out of them."
For Garvey, the idea is that these early matches against Indiana, Clemson and other opponents will help the Gamecocks prepare for the ASUN season. His hope is to top the incredible season of a year when JSU went 25-7 and finished second in the league tournament to Florida Gulf Coast.
"I like where we're at right now," he said. "The good thing is that we've still got a lot to get better at. If we were at our full potential right now, that wouldn't be a good thing. We've still got things to work on, and the team knows that and that we can keep getting better.
"We want to play a tough non-conference schedule, whether we win or lose, so it's good that we can get some good wins along the way and get better at the same time."
Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.