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A New Era

May 10, 2005

by Scott MacDonald – Before the season started in the fall, the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team had never finished higher than fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and never attained a national ranking inside the Top 10. That was then, and this is now. The Yellow Jackets followed their regular-season ACC title with a tournament title and are the fifth-ranked team in the nation, becoming one of the premier teams in the southeast.

“They were able to bounce back from each win and loss and I think that their hard work was rewarded with a high national ranking, an ACC tournament title and some other good things like some individual recognition as well,” said head coach Bryan Shelton.

The Jackets began the spring season 10-2, heading to archrival Georgia. Tech had never beaten the second-ranked Bulldogs or a Top 10 opponent, until the Rambling Wreck pulled off a 4-3 come-from-behind victory that sent a shockwave through the southeastern tennis scene.

“Certainly that was one of the biggest highlights of the season for us,” said Shelton. “Everyone sort of gauges their success around the southeast by how they’re doing against Georgia over about the last probably 10 or 15 years, and obviously we’ve never beaten them, until this season. I definitely think that win catapulted us forward and got us mentally ready to go and have a great year in conference.”

That win was just the beginning of something special for head coach Bryan Shelton and his troops. The Yellow Jackets began the ACC regular season 7-0 and faced a Miami team that stood at 9-0 in league action. At the Bill Moore Tennis Center on the campus of Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets rallied to win four straight singles matches to defeat the Hurricanes, 4-3, and improve to 8-0.

“It was huge for us to win that match [speaking of Georgia] and then the next match when we played Clemson we were down in that match and came back and that’s another team that we haven’t beaten a lot lately and were the defending regular-season ACC champions,” said ACC Rookie of the Year Kristi Miller. “We followed that up with another come-from-behind win against Wake Forest. So all three of those wins, in that short of period of time, really had us believing in a special season.”

The Yellow Jackets hosted Duke and North Carolina to wrap up conference play, and needed to win one of the two, to claim the top seed at the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils ended a streak of 10 consecutive wins for Tech, with a 4-3 win, but the Jackets claimed the regular-season ACC crown and top seed at the ACC Tournament with a 5-2 victory over the Tar Heels, downing UNC for just the third time in 25 tries.

At the ACC Tournament, the Jackets breezed into the semifinals after defeating Florida State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals. Tech downed the Tar Heels for the second consecutive time in the semis with a 4-2 victory to advance to its first ACC Tournament final.

The finals turned out to mirror the Miami match from earlier in the season in Atlanta, with the Jackets trailing early in the match and dropping the doubles point. Tech responded with another magnificent comeback with four straight singles match wins and Alison Silverio came back after dropping her first set to win at No. 4 singles and lift the Yellow Jackets to their first ever ACC Tournament title. Silverio earned Tournament MVP honors for her efforts.

“I think it means a lot,” said Shelton on winning the first tournament title – men or women. “It’s like we’re finally on the board. We’ve had good teams in the past, on both the men’s side as well as the women’s side, so to finally get it done feels good.”

Heading into the NCAA Tournament, the Jackets have won a school record 19 matches this year, freshman standout Kristi Miller won a school record 38 matches and the Yellow Jackets rattled off 10 straight wins down the final stretch of the regular season.

Miller, a freshman from Marysville, Mich., became Tech’s first All-American in women’s tennis history, gaining a Top 16 national seed at the individual NCAA Championships. She won 18 of her first 20 matches and finished the season with an overall record of 38-9. For her efforts, Miller was named ACC Rookie of the Year and garnered All-ACC honors. She holds a No. 12 national ranking in the current women’s tennis rankings.

“She is such a great competitor,” said Shelton. “She’s a great tennis player, but even a better competitor. It takes a really special player to beat her, because she doesn’t have those days where she goes away.”

“With having so many matches, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I’ve been consistent, because you know you’re always going to have a tough match playing at the No. 1 spot or playing high in the lineup,” said Miller. “Obviously, it’s a huge honor to be ACC Rookie of the Year.”

Also earning all-conference honors for the Yellow Jackets was senior Dasha Potapova and sophomore Alison Silverio. Potapova finished the regular season with a record of 24-11, while Silverio went 28-9, including three straight wins in the ACC Tournament and a 1-0 record at doubles. Coach Shelton was awarded Coach of the Year honors, for the second time in four seasons.

“It was such a team effort this year,” said Shelton. “We had different individuals rise to the occasion in different matches and everybody contributed to our success this year. That’s what makes it so special.”

The Yellow Jackets attained a No. 6 national seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and will host the first and second rounds at the Bill Moore Tennis Center, May 13-14. Tech will take on Winthrop in the first round and Mississippi State and Pepperdine will meet in the second match. The winners of those two matches will meet on Saturday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.

“Our goal was then and now to make the Sweet 16,” said Shelton. “But our focus is on Winthrop, because they are a good team with a good record.”

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