Aug. 24, 2011
Georgia Tech head women’s tennis coach Bryan Shelton is excited about the beginning of fall classes.
The student-athletes, who wake up early for weights, attend classes all day, practice and then hit the books, may or may not be.
But Shelton has plenty of reason for optimism heading into his 13th year at the helm of the women’s program at his alma mater. He returns six of nine players from a year ago when the Yellow Jackets finished 15-11 and ranked No. 13 in the nation.
“We have a team with a lot of experience,” Shelton said. “We have four seniors. We have our top four spots from last year, which will certainly help us out this year. We’re adding a couple players who will certainly help us as well. I’m excited about what we learned from last year, an up and down year, where we finished No. 13 in the nation. Knowing that if we were up and down and finished No. 13, what we can do this year with a veteran team that gained a lot of experience and knowledge from a season ago.
“As we looked at the end of our season last year, we felt good about some things we were doing,” Shelton said. “We felt really good about our doubles play and found some answers on how to prepare better to be more productive on the doubles court. We’re going to take some of what we gathered last year, the momentum we gathered at the end of the season and we’re going to make sure we’re practicing smart so we can continue that momentum into this fall and ultimately through the spring.”
Shelton isn’t handing out any spots in his lineup yet, however, and you wouldn’t expect him to either. When he graduated from Georgia Tech, he was second on the school’s all-time wins list. He’s won 213 matches as head coach, including the 2007 national title, four ACC regular season crowns and four ACC Tournament titles.
“I always say it’s a fresh new start,” Shelton stated. “Everyone has to go out there and compete, put their best foot forward and earn their position. That No. 1 spot is available for eight players. What they do this fall and leading into the spring will determine what the lineup will be when we start up in January.
“I think the players understand that,” Shelton continued. “You’re not going to get consideration for just what you’ve done in the past. Hopefully you’ve worked hard this summer and put yourself into a position where you’re ready to hit the ground running when we start the fall season.”
Shelton also welcomes back junior Elizabeth Kilborn, who played from the No. 5 and 6 spots last season, and sophomore Muriel Wacker. The Yellow Jackets will add sophomore transfer Alexandra Anghelescu and freshman Jasmine Minor to the squad this season.
Anghelescu comes to Atlanta after spending a year at the University of Georgia, where she compiled a 21-11 overall singles mark and clinched four Bulldog team wins.
“She’s crafty,” Shelton said of Anghelescu. “She has a lot of different tools that she can throw at people. She can blend her game really effectively out on the tennis court. She’s kind of like Greg Maddux in baseball terms because she can find out what you don’t like and is able to execute certain plays out on the court. Her style is one that gives opponents a lot of trouble because she can find out what you don’t like and she can execute it.”
Minor, a blue-chip recruit, joins Georgia Tech from Mundelein, Ill., where she posted a perfect 37-0 record as a junior at Carmel Catholic High School and was named 2011 USTA Midwest Section Helen Shockley Female Player of the Year.
“Jasmine is a more traditional type of player that has an all court game,” Shelton said. “She likes to set up points from the back of the court, but likes to ultimately come forward and finish at the net, which fits very well with my coaching style and developing all court players. She’s more of an attacking player. She’s got a great serve, it’s one of her strengths. She’s going to help us on the singles courts, but certainly on the doubles courts as well.”
The Jackets are going to find out quickly how they stack up to some stiff competition, which Shelton believes is good to provide instant feedback on where his players stand.
Tech will open the fall season with the Georgia Tech Invitational, the weekend of Sept. 16-18, against Georgia, Oklahoma State and Yale. The Jackets will also play in the Florida State Invitational and the Purdue Invitational, along with select ITA and USTA events.
“I think it’s great we’ll face teams we don’t often see,” Shelton said. “I think there is a comfort level with seeing someone on the other side of the net that you know. I think it’s good for us to have to deal with different players out there where we don’t have any preconceived notions about how good they are. We’re going to have to understand how to play different styles and we’ll have to figure out that pretty quickly.”
Shelton won’t just be sending his squad out to play matches though. As a coach who prides himself in developing players throughout their time on The Flats, he has areas of focus for the fall.
“One of the other areas I think we weren’t quite as good in, I didn’t feel like we were as fit as we needed to be at the very end of last year,” Shelton said. “I don’t think we peaked physically at the end of the year and I think that showed up in the loss to Duke. I think we can improve in that area and get more fit. I felt like the fittest team in the country last year was Florida, and I think it paid off for them in the NCAA final against Stanford, which was a great final. It kind of gave us a good sense of where we need to be in order to win championships. I don’t think we were quite there last year. I think that’s going to be a point of emphasis this season.”
While Shelton can handle the on-court adjustments, he’ll turn his team over to Scott McDonald, Director of Olympic Sports Player Development, for the conditioning.
“We have a new strength coach in Scott McDonald, who I think is going to do a great job for us and I’m really excited to work with him,” Shelton said. “He’s been here longer than I have. He’s one of those guys that everyone respects. I know our players will give him their respect and we have an opportunity to work with one of the best strength coaches in the business.
“I think Scott is going to help us a lot with our fitness, but every player has to ante up and do their part, not only in our practices but in off-the-court workouts, the way we eat, the way we train, that’s going to be very important for our success this year,” Shelton added.
The team has been busy since the season came to a close. Blau played numerous events in France while spending time in her native Luxembourg. Wacker was able to train in her home of Switzerland. Minor played junior tournaments throughout the summer as did Lilley and Kilborn.
“I think it’s important that you continually test yourself as a player and as an athlete,” Shelton said. “The best way to test yourself is through competition. I think the players who played a number of tournaments this summer have a better idea of where they’re at, where they’re strong, where they’re a little bit weaker, and where they need to continue to improve.
“Overall, I think we come back with a veteran team, which is a lot different from last year’s team where we had a lot of first time players at Georgia Tech,” Shelton said. “We have a group coming back this year that has a lot of experience. I think that’s exciting, that they are going to understand our system, the way we do things. We’re going to try and improve the standards this year.”
Fans are encouraged to follow Georgia Tech women’s tennis on Twitter, @GT_WTEN, and like the Yellow Jackets on Facebook, GTWomensTennis, for an inside look at the program.
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