BOSSIER CITY, Louisiana — When Georgia Tech made its NCAA Tournament round-of-eight run last December — the first time the Yellow Jackets got that far in 18 years — it rode the play of Brazilians Julia Bergmann and Mariana Brambilla.
One of them, the 6-foot-5 Bergmann, is now here, blasting away for Brazil in the Volleyball Nations League.
Brazil opened the tournament Tuesday with a four-set win over Germany and the German-born Bergmann, who could have played for either team, led Brazil with 18 kills, 10 digs and a block. What’s more, she was the constant target of nearly every German serve, receiving 37 of 53 for her team. She only had two passing errors.
“I like to pass,” Bergmann said after.
“She was really good,” Brazil coach José Roberto Guimaraes said.
Thursday, in a sweep of Poland, Bergmann had eight more kills and three digs.
“She’s been improving since a young age in Brazil,” Guimaraes said through an interpreter. “She always knew what she wanted. She wanted to study in the U.S. and to go to Georgia Tech to play volleyball and study physics. She always had that in her mind and it’s really good to see how well she’s doing now.”
Georgia Tech head coach Michelle Collier, and her top assistant, Claudio Pinheiro, are both Brazilian. Guimaraes said that Pinheiro, who coached for the Brazilian national team from 2005-17, including the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, is a great friend.
“I think it’s really good she has him as a coach,” Guimaraes said. “He worked with the national team for 12 years. He is my brother.”
We had a laugh when Guimaraes was asked how high is Bergmann’s ceiling. He responded by saying how tall she was in meters. When the American phrase was clarified, he said “she has a big, big future.”
Tuesday’s match was Bergmann’s first on the international stage for the outside hitter who was raised in Munich before moving to Brusque, Brazil.
“It was interesting to play against Germany in my first game,” she said.
Bergmann is fluent in German, Portuguese, of course English, and also speaks Spanish and dabbles in French.
“Paris (2024) is almost here,” she said.
Bergmann learned Spanish, she said, to communicate better with GT teammate Bianca Bertolino, who is from Argentina.
Interestingly, while Bergmann, a VolleyballMag.com first-team All-American, is here, her team has actually been in Brazil. The Yellow Jackets left two weeks ago and return Friday after playing in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife and Fernando de Noronha.
“They’re on islands and in clear water and playing volleyball and I’m here playing volleyball,” Bergmann said with a smile, “but I’m not complaining.”
Bergmann, the 2019 ACC freshman of the year, is taking an American government class online this summer.
“I have a final due Saturday and haven’t even started,” she said.
Here’s a scary note for the ACC and NCAA: Bergmann is back for one more year. In 2021 she averaged 4.44 kills per set, hit .284, averaged 2.61 digs, had 67 blocks (22 solo) and had a team-best 36 aces. Brambilla (4.34 kills, 23 aces, 2.90 digs, 49 blocks) is gone, but almost everyone else is back.
Georgia Tech finished 26-6, 14-4 in the ACC where it lost to Notre Dame, national-semifinalist Pitt and twice to NCAA-finalist Louisville. The Yellow Jackets then lost to Louisville again, in four sets in the NCAA regional final.
“It was awesome. Everyone played their highest level of volleyball and I think it’s only up from there,” Bergmann said. “We know we can compete with all the best teams and we’re looking for the championship this year. We want to be first.”
But first up is this tournament.
On Friday, Brazil plays the Dominican Republic and then Saturday has its big match with the USA. Then Brazil heads home to Brasilia and plays Turkey, the Netherlands, Italy and Serbia. A trip to Bulgaria follows for matches with Korea, Bulgaria and Thailand. After that, you would have to imagine that there will be a rematch at some point in the quarterfinals or beyond as the VNL concludes in Turkey in July.
The USA, after opening with a sweep of the Dominican Republic has had two days off.
There are three matches Friday in the Brookeshire Grocery Arena. At 2 p.m. Central, Germany plays Korea. At 5 p.m., Brazil plays the DR, and at 8 it’s USA-Canada.
Canada opened with a four-set loss Wednesday to Poland but on Thursday swept the Dominican Republic.
Also Wednesday, Japan swept Korea. Thursday, Japan beat Germany in five.
The tournament is also going on in Ankara, Turkey.
Wednesday, Serbia beat Belgium in four and China did the same to the Netherlands.
Thursday, Bulgaria beat the Dutch in five and Italy beat Belgium in four.
As this was posted Friday, Serbia had swept Bulgaria, Italy was up 2-0 on the Netherlands, and Turkey was to play China.