#TGW: Coming Home

The Good Word | By Matt Winkeljohn

For all the songs, stories and movies about going home, there may never have come a tale about going home and losing that met positive reviews from both sides – until the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team beat Oregon, 5-2, Sunday.

This has been in the works for a while, perhaps going all the way back to 2003, when Alison Silverio chose to become a Yellow Jacket.

She surely had little or no idea coming from Louisville, Ohio, that she would eventually clinch the NCAA title for Tech in 2007 as a player, or assist at Tech for four years, or move from there to become a college head coach at Oregon.

Those were the reasons that she brought the Ducks to The Flats last weekend, where Oregon used the Bill Moore Indoor Tennis Facility at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex as a home away from home for a couple days.

After beating Georgia State, 6-1, Saturday, when Oregon’s scores were recorded on the boards on the Ga. Tech lines, the Ducks fell to the No. 7-ranked Jackets in a match on Sunday.

Still, Silverio was content and met Tech coach Rodney Harmon, her former boss, with a smile.

“Rodney and I spoke about it, and obviously it’s great to be able to come back to Georgia Tech, and it was wonderful to host Georgia Tech last year [when the Jackets beat the Ducks in Eugene].

“I have such a respect for coach Harmon and Christy Striplin, it’s Christy Lynch now, and it’s just great to play a top 10 team and be back at my alma mater,” she said.

Silverio’s story is a script ready for sale.

After clinching Tech’s 4-2 win over UCLA in the 2007 national championship when current Tech assistant Lynch (nee Striplin) was her teammate, she became an assistant coach at North Carolina State for a couple seasons before joining her college head coach, Bryan Shelton, back at Tech.

After two years guiding the Jackets with Shelton, Harmon was hired as head coach and Silverio spent two more seasons helping coach at Tech.

Then, with recommendation from Harmon, she became head coach at Oregon in the summer of 2014.

The match had everything to do with Alison and her former boss deciding a couple years ago to set up Tech at Oregon last year and Oregon at Tech this year. Generally, you don’t see teams crossing the country to play one another in the second semester.

But Tech launched Silverio, who graduated in 2007 with a 3.41 grade point average as a management major. And she helped Harmon establish himself as Tech maintained what Shelton built before becoming the men’s coach at Florida.

“Sure, I think it is [unusual],” Silverio said. “[But] It’s a unique connection, and think it’s a mutual respect there.”

The Jackets (3-0) had little trouble with the Ducks (4-2).

Tech captured the doubles point when No. 5 Paige Hourigan/Kenya Jones out-pointed No. 17 Shweta Sangwan/Alyssa Tobita, 6-3, and Johnnise Renaud/Ida Jarlskog beat Rifanty Kahfiani/Julia Eshet, 6-3.

Sophomore Nami Otsuka, freshman Jarlskog and senior Hourigan won quickly in straight sets on courts 5, 3 and 1 to clinch the match.

In remaining singles matches, sophomore Kenya Jones won in straight sets on court six in her return from illness for a 5-0 lead, and senior Renaud and freshman Victoria Flores fell on courts 2 and 4.

All of this was part of what Silverio sees as a building process.

She’s been through it.

The Jackets were nothing special in her freshman season, and then won ACC titles in each of her last three seasons. Then, of course, they won the NCAA title (in addition to winning the ITA Indoors national title the prior fall).

All those banners hang inside the Bill Moore Tennis Center.

And Sliverio’s student-athletes got to see them for a couple days.

Silverio has credentials and credibility. Her players may or may not know that she left Tech as the school’s all-time leader in doubles wins (98), in addition to being second in singles wins (107) and earning ACC all-Academic honors in each of her four seasons.

She wanted them to connect, in some way or another, with the process.

So, after arriving in Atlanta Friday, they visited one of her favorite spots.

“We actually went to a favorite Italian restaurant last night, Figo, off of Marietta Street,” she said. “That was a favorite of ours when I was playing on the team, and we went there quite a bit after home matches. I got to again share that with the team, and that was great. The pasta is still so great.”

Silverio is open-minded. Last summer she hired a new assistant coach. Elizabeth Lumpkin Robinson became a first-time coach after several years as a touring pro. She was on the UCLA team that Tech beat for the national title.

Just as Silverio’s parents made the trip to Atlanta from Ohio, her parents made the trip from Illinois. The parents of two Oregon players from Florida were also in the house, and it was easy to see the Ducks’ presence in the stands.

This was a big deal for Oregon’s women’s tennis program. A step.

The point: Silverio wants her team to connect to her past, with her Tech trail.

“It’s definitely special to be able to share this with the program at Oregon, and with our players, to share my story more, and for them to be able to experience what it’s like to be here and play here, but also just to realize all the hard work and discipline that went into creating what we have,” she said.

“My goal when I took the position was building a legacy. And it’s something I was part of here with coach Shelton as a player, then back with coach Shelton as a coach, and with coach Harmon . . . building a legacy.”

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