First Class

Feb. 27, 2012

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Every recruiting class has the potential to be “the one,” that special class that changes the face of the program, that takes it to the next level.

When that class actually arrives it’s special and you don’t want to see it go.

The Georgia Tech women’s basketball team is experiencing those emotions with its class of 2012. The Yellow Jackets sent the seniors out in grand style, blasting Clemson, 62-50, Sunday afternoon, to finish the regular season with a 22-7 record, 12-4 in the ACC, finishing tied for third place in the ACC.

The win tied the school’s regular-season record for wins and extended the school season and career record for conference wins.

It was a conclusion befitting this group, which had greatness thrust upon it and received national renown as one the best recruiting classes in school history.

Head Coach MaChelle Joseph knew it at the time.

“This recruiting class is very special. It is without question one of the most talented and deepest classes that we have signed at Georgia Tech,” said Joseph back on Nov. 14, 2007. “This group brings much-needed size to our front court and tremendous speed and quickness to our backcourt. Not only are these some of the top players in the country they are also the type of student-athletes that will excel at Tech.

“This class gives us the depth we need to challenge the leaders in the Atlantic Coast Conference and puts us that much closer to accomplishing our goal of becoming a top-25 program year in and year out.”

Coach Joseph has been proven 100 percent correct about the class which featured guards Metra Walthour and Mo Bennett, forward Chelsea Regins and centers Sasha Goodlett and LaQuananisha Adams. The group had a little bit of everything then and hasn’t stopped doing it all.

Five years later, the class has helped the Jackets carry a No. 15 ranking into the ACC Tournament, which starts on Thursday at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. The Jackets, the tournament’s fourth-seed for the second time in three years, will enjoy a first-round bye and will play their first game Friday at 11 a.m. against the winner of the opening round match-up between No. 5 North Carolina and No. 12 Clemson.

The group enters the ACCs having won more ACC games in a four-year span (37) and in a season (12) than any in school history, is tied for the most wins by a class (91) and the most wins in a regular-season (22). It’s No. 15 ranking is the highest national ranking for a Georgia Tech team.

“I think we are just a special five,” said Regins. “We all contribute in our own way into making the team better. It shows how much leadership is actually involved. Sasha in the paint and she takes care of all that hard work, Nisha on the boards, me and Mo with energy and Me-Me basically running the team. So I think all of that is a part of us being so strong and being able to do so well in adverse situations.

“We all are pretty much like sisters because we came in together and we’ve made it all the way through our senior years together,” she added. “It’s amazing. We’re very excited, Coach is excited. But I don’t think anyone is at the point where they’re ready to settle for just being 15th.”

The seniors never made excuses and wouldn’t let anyone else make them, which was the driving force in its accomplishing what it did this season playing without having a true home floor. Joseph knew that this group could handle that adversity primarily because of the strength of the senior leadership.

She could make that assumption having seen this group mature. It’s a group that will have never missed the NCAA Tournament, once Tech is selected — a formality that should be made official in a couple of weeks — and will give the Tech program a record six consecutive appearances in the Big Dance.

“It’s a great accomplishment because as Coach Jo says, the senior class sets the standard each year,” said Bennett. “I feel like our class has had some great examples over the years. For it to be our turn and never miss the Tournament and to help continue the standard and raise the bar is a great feeling to know we’ve done that over our time here.”

“I’m most impressed with the way that we’ve gotten better every year,” said Walthour. “Every senior class has left this program better than it found it. It’s easy to say sometimes, ‘Oh, we’re going to have a rebuilding year.’ But I think that every senior class that we’ve had since I’ve been here has set the standard and set the bar high and it has trickled down to other classes that want to do the exact same thing and don’t want to let up. I think that is the greatest thing, just the effect that every upperclassman has had on all the other classes and making them better — a better person as well as a better basketball player.”

That last part is important. This class has always been about character, open-mindedness and togetherness.

If ever a class had the potential to fall into the trap of cliques it was this one. Walthour, Bennett and Adams were from South Georgia, and were AAU teammates, with Adams and Walthour having gone to Liberty County High School in Hinesville. The trio met Regins, from Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the summer before when she visited Tech and then everyone met Goodlett, a native of Bolton, Mississippi (Clinton H.S.), weeks before school began.

But instead of pulling apart the fivesome pulled together.

“Our chemistry and how we are, you’d have thought we’d known each other like me, Me-Me and Mo had,” said Adams. “We had different personalities but they fit. I don’t know how to explain it. I think we were meant to be together.”

“I definitely say that all five of us are like sisters,” said Goodlett. “With Me-Me, Mo and Nisha knowing each other it was kind of different but they welcomed me with open arms and over the years we’ve got to know each other and just not miss a beat. I love and appreciate my other four classmates.”

That love and admiration transferred into accountability to each other. This year that accountability took on extra meaning as the seniors led by example and has Tech playing its best ball of the season late in the season as they have won 10 of its last 11 and almost earned a program-best three seed in the ACC — Tech finished tied with Maryland, but the Terrapins owned the tiebreaker, having taken both games against the Yellow Jackets.

“I think it’s very rewarding,” said Walthour. “I think our coaches give us a difficult schedule and put us in a lot of different situations to win games. That’s what we’ve done. I think people are starting to see that we’re a team to be reckoned with. We’ve played a difficult schedule. We’ve challenged teams. We haven’t had a home court but we haven’t allowed that to stop us. I give a lot of credit to both our coaching staff and our team.”

“The five of us make up the perfect person,” said Bennett. “We’re all integral parts. We just continue to help each other. If one of us is having a down game we have to pick each other up. We know that we can’t be seen like that because our younger players look up to us. It’s something that we try to take on every day.”

While the days on the court are down to a select few, there is still a chance to make history. Tech nearly advanced to the conference Championship Game last year. They are determined to get there this time.

It’s as much a matter of not wanting their momentous ride as teammates to end.

“I could probably come up with a moment for every one of our upper classmen, where I was so proud of how they’ve succeeded,” said Goodlett. “But I’m going to leave [my favorite moment] unanswered because I feel like my ultra proudest moment is still to come this season for my team and my season. I’m saving that for another huge moment that hasn’t happened yet.”

That moment will be a lot of fun for this special group of sisters to talk about in years to come.

–RamblinWreck.com–

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