March 22, 2011
By Jon Cooper
For the fifth straight year the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets women’s basketball team’s season ended on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
While the Jackets went one game further than they did last season and there is the obvious short-term disappointment in the season being over, there’s also greater reason for optimism in pointing to the next season than ever before in the MaChelle Joseph era.
Think back to when the 2010-11 Yellow Jackets came into their first practice. They brought with them one bona fide scorer, Alex Montgomery. Montgomery was the only returning double-digit scorer and only reliable three-point threat. Her 59 threes, 26 in ACC play were followed by Mo Bennett, who made 15 all year.
When the Jackets begin camp next season, Montgomery will be gone, but the team returns at least three viable scoring options, two who averaged more than 10 points in ACC play — guard Tyaunna Marshall, who had 12.9 ppg, and center Sasha Goodlett, 10.7, and a third who averages over nine, in point guard Metra Walthour, who added 9.1, There’s also another viable three-point shooter in Frida Fogdemark.
Walthour came of age as a junior, heeding the call and stepping up. She doubled her scoring average from a year ago (9.1 from 3.9), increased her three-point production six-fold (50 threes, up from 8), while shooting it at 37.9 percent, and showed impeccable ball control while running the offense (126 assists to 72 turnovers). She even led the team in its ACC Tournament semifinal against Duke and in the NCAA second-round game against Ohio State.
“I pretty much I knew coming into last season that I had to step up, being a junior,” she said. “I knew at that time we didn’t know how good Ty [Marshall] was going to be so I tried to put in work every day [last] summer. I knew I needed to step up for my team because we needed scoring out of every position. So I put in the work and I’ve been successful.”
The 2010-11 team showed guts in playing against some of the nation’s best talent — Coach Joseph scheduled the 16th-toughest schedule in the nation. And even if they were unable to derail the Connecticut win streak, or stop Duke’s express to the ACC title or halt Ohio State’s march on their home floor, next year’s team is better for trying.
Don’t believe in moral victories? Then call it improved mental toughness. There was no wilting in the ACCs as they did last year against Duke and certainly no embarrassment as in the loss to Arkansas-Little Rock.
This year they roared back and took their ACC opener against Maryland and battled Duke until the more talented team took over. In the NCAAs, they took it to a very talented Bowling Green team, which was playing what amounted to a home game and demoralized them and out-willed them. Then, they led Ohio State at the half before running out of gas.
The maturity and taking of that next step was obvious in Goodlett’s play. The talented junior showed she could put the team on her back, as she did against Maryland in the ACCs and then against Bowling Green.
“Every game is a learning experience,” she said. “In the last year’s NCAA Tournament I learned don’t overlook your opponent. Before that I learned no one can beat you if you play your heart out. Every NCAA Tournament I come with an open mind trying to learn something new.”
What everyone may have learned is how good Marshall is. What next year’s Tech won’t have the is shooting of Montgomery or the fiery spirit of Deja Foster, they will have players like Goodlett and Walthour and Marshall, a year older and a year wiser, who took that spirit from them.
I’ve had great competition the whole year it’s improved me,” said the ACC All-Freshman Team member. “I’m ready to play some of the best competition in the country. I’m ready.”
This year’s juniors are ready to lead the way as seniors.
“We have so many upperclassmen so we have to be the leaders and we have to show them how the mentality we need to take into each and every game,” said Walthour. “Not looking over any team, taking it one game at a time. That’s what we need to do as upperclassmen, provide that leadership that the team needs.”
Sure, in a perfect world, the Yellow Jackets would have advanced to the Sweet 16.
Instead the 2011-12 Jackets can look forward to entering a brave, new world, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that world looks a lot like that perfect one.