Game, Set And Match

April 19, 2010

By Jon Cooper
RamblinWreck.com

It usually takes time after a person is gone to get the true measure of his or her impact on a team or program.

Such is not the case with Amanda McDowell and her impact on the Georgia Tech Women’s Tennis program.

That’s why the emotion and gratitude was so genuine on April 11, when the team honored McDowell, the team’s lone senior, prior to its match against North Carolina.

“It was a really special day,” recalled the Atlanta native, who was the first Georgia Tech woman to win a team national championship (2007) then a national titles in singles play (2008). “It was kind of bittersweet. I was really honored. The girls made me a plaque and everybody wrote notes on it and it was really special. They made me feel really special.”

To the team she already was. Had been pretty much from Day One.

“Amanda came in here as a freshman and shot up like a rocket,” said Head Coach Bryan Shelton. “She wasn’t in the lineup when she started her freshman year, finished No. 4 and really was a huge contributing factor in us winning the National Championship in 2007. She then proceeded, the following year, to win the individual title at the NCAA Championships, the first time we’ve ever had someone do that.”

McDowell won 39 matches as a freshman, a total that still stands as the school record for a first-year player. She then won 45 the following year, setting the school record, and was named the 2008 ITA National Player of the Year. She’s the only Yellow Jacket to take home that award.

She won an NCAA Doubles title with Irina Falconi to begin her junior year, but then was hindered over her the rest of her career by a back injury – she played in only nine matches this season, her last on Feb. 28, when she was forced to retire in the second set. Yet, she’s shown as much class fighting to make it back into the lineup as she did in fighting to get the Yellow Jackets to the top in ’07 and getting herself there the next year.

She’s been as successful.

“I’ve probably learned more in the last two years than any success would have taught me,” she said. “Your character really comes through in hard times. Just learning to stay positive and continuing to support everyone, even when I can’t be out there playing, not letting it affect me too much and the team overall and putting it into perspective and realizing, yes, tennis is such a big part of my life, but it’s not completely, my life. It doesn’t define me. So learning some of those tough lessons have really been good experience. Hard experience, but good.”

Shelton feels McDowell’s behavior through the tough times has been exemplary and a priceless teaching tool for the young team.

“That’s part of sports. You’re going to have injuries, you’re going to be sick, you’re not going to be at 100 percent all the time,” he said. “Being able to still play and compete and be successful ultimately, when you don’t have your very best is a lesson for everyone to learn, especially the young ones.”

As the team gears up for the ACC Tournament then the NCAAs, McDowell prepares for graduation on May 8, having earned a degree in economics and international affairs. She’ll leave Tech with an overall singles record of 116-38, 50-33 in doubles and was a part of six national championships. She also leaves knowing that she’s helped keep the Georgia Tech Women’s Tennis program thriving.

“I just wanted to represent Georgia Tech and the program as best as I could,” she said. “Having had some success, that’s helped me to be able to kind of tell the girls what it takes to be a National Championship team and Irina [Falconi, her doubles partner last season], with her success this year, she’s just dominating and she’s handling it so well. So that’s helping put our program on the map as well.”

Regardless of whether or not she plays tennis professionally – a matter that will depend on her health – McDowell will fondly remember her days on The Flats.

“I’ve gotten to appreciate success and I’ve also gone through some hard times, especially this year. So I think it’s helped me grow as a person,” she said. “And getting to work with Coach Shelton has just been really an honor.

“Outside of tennis, the friendships I’ve made every year with the girls on the team, it’s been a great journey.”

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