Storybook Finish

April 15, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn

Sting Daily

– The business of script writing came into play Sunday when the very last shot to count at the Bill Moore Tennis Center went Georgia Tech’s way big time.

A facility’s life ended memorably. Perhaps the moment will also serve as the birth of something else no less special, like a run to another ACC tournament title.

The final official point to be played at a place whose demolition will begin in a couple weeks was Alex Anghelescu’s winner. The ultimate tally in the sophomore’s tiebreaker at No. 4 singles gave her a win (after dropping her first set 1-6), sealed Tech’s 7-0 rout of Wake Forest on Senior Day, gave the Jackets a three-match winning streak heading into the ACC tournament, and . . . it was an overhand smash for storybook emphasis.

You couldn’t have written it up any better, really.

After that, Tech’s young ladies all took keepsake photos together – some serious, some while jumping and goofing around – because the next time the Jackets play at the corner of 10th and Fowler; they’ll christen a new tennis mecca. It’ll be on-line next spring.

With four seniors about to pass out of the program, Tech will be re-defined by then. While continuing the notion of selecting scripts that you really, really like, head coach Bryan Shelton and his players hope that they’ve actually re-defined themselves of late.

This has not been the season they wanted, that perhaps many expected.

Tech entered the weekend ranked No. 25, but even with a win over N.C. State Saturday and Sunday’s blowout of the Demon Deacons the Jackets find themselves with modest marks of 12-10 overall and 6-5 in the ACC.

Here’s a trick, though: the Jackets don’t need to write a new script. They can pull out the one they wrote just two years ago.

That’s when a Tech squad that finished No. 7 in the conference regular season rode a string of upsets to the 2010 ACC tournament title in the very same place where they’ll set out Thursday for Shelton’s fifth tourney title – in Cary, N.C.

Hey, Hollywood loves a sequel so why shouldn’t the Jackets do it again?

Three of the present players – seniors Lynn Blau and Christina Ngo and junior Elizabeth Kilborn – were around for the first go.

Shelton’s thought about it, “On more than one occasion because it’s been one of those years, similar to 2010, where we have shown some promise and had some losses that were tight and came down to a few points against some of the best teams in the country,” he said. “Through it all I have felt that this team is capable.

“We just need to get to a point where we believe enough in ourselves. This weekend certainly helped. You know the movie, ‘Any Given Sunday?’ That certainly applies . . . Elizabeth, Lynn and Christina were a part of that ACC championship. It’s great to have players who have a great feeling of a place already.”

There were good vibes all around Sunday.

The four seniors, including transfers Jillian O’Neill and Caroline Lilley, all received large framed action photos of themselves with adjoining notes from their teammates attached under the glass. There were flowers, and parents from near and far (Blau’s made the trip from Luxembourg, O’Neill’s from Montreal, and Lilley’s from Portland).

Blau’s had a feeling lately. The Jackets have been uneven this season as Lilley has battled injury. Yet there’s been a recent uptick of intensity and focus – like a couple years ago.

“We obviously didn’t have the season that we expected, but there’s so much more to come with the ACCs and NCAAs ahead,” Blau said. “We’ve talked a lot about consistency lately because we’ve been up and down.”

Shelton’s partly to account for changes having pushed his players in recent weeks.

He’s been doing this awhile, and yet when he spoke to players – and their families – collectively after Sunday’s match to not only congratulate them but re-visit some up and downs from recent years, he pointed out that this group of student-athletes has “pushed me.” He’s changed a few of his standard operating procedures.

Blau has been at the forefront of a movement to convince the coach that a little music around the program – even in practice – is not only modern, but helpful.

“I think that when you lose some matches and don’t do some things that you want to do, you start to question yourself and whether you’re on the right track” Shelton said. “I’ve really challenged them a lot more the last couple weeks. They’ve responded to that. I’ve admitted to them that I haven’t done my very best job.

“I felt like I could have done things differently, better. I’ve put it on myself first to make a few changes in the way we’re preparing. I think some of the changes have been good. The kids of today don’t go anywhere without their iPods . . . I’m kind of a traditional guy; I like quiet. But I’ve allowed them to put some music on in the early stages of practice to liven it up a little bit, get their feet moving.”

There’s palpable energy around the program. There have been times it’s been hard to spot.

It’s not like the cupboard is bare.

O’Neill is ranked No. 16 in the nation with nine wins over ranked opponents, she and Anghelescu are ranked No. 10 nationally in doubles, Ngo and Wacker have gone 8-3 in ACC doubles play, and Blau has won eight of her past 10 matches.

Now, the Jackets head into Shelton’s wheelhouse.

Given that he could not be more respected than he already is for his ability to scout opponents the Jackets have already played and prepare his players for rematches it’s no wonder everybody was smiling Sunday.

“That’s definitely one of his biggest strengths. He’s really good tactically. That’s what I feel like I was lacking the most when I came here . . . just how to play the game, and play who I’m playing against,” said O’Neill, who transferred in from Hillsborough Community College last year.

“He’s taught me so much about how to see their weakness, and how I can have an advantage. The team is really excited . . . one of our main goals is to win the ACC.”

Shelton, too, is amped about Tech’s pending trip to Cary.

“Every time I walk into that facility, I start having those good feelings,” he said. “You have to make changes to be effective. It’s up to me to discern where we need to make changes, and where we need to stay the course. That’s the fun of coaching. You’re in it 13 years and you’re still learning. If you don’t adapt, you’re going to get left behind.”

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