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A Pleasant Homecoming

May 10, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– It’s not often that Bryan Shelton and his team find themselves based in a hotel while playing the first and second rounds of the NCAA tennis tournament, yet for the Georgia Tech women’s head coach this week is a homecoming – out of state.

NCAA Championship bracket

The 24th-ranked Yellow Jackets (14-11) will play No. 37 Oklahoma State (11-9) today in a regional at the University of Alabama, which to Shelton has been like a second home.

Tech’s stout program usually plays host to first- and second-round action, but the Jackets don’t have a home right now as what was the Bill Moore Tennis Center is being demolished to make way for a new facility that will open by the middle of next winter.

For the time being, that’s not so bad especially when considering that the few other times in Shelton’s 13-year career at Tech that the Jackets had to go on the road for regionals they went to places like UCLA, Fresno State and USC.

Alabama’s not just closer to home; it was Shelton’s home for many years.

He’s seen plenty of familiar faces over the past couple days in Tuscaloosa, and the Huntsville, Ala., native will look for familiar results today and hopefully Saturday.

“This is kind of nice coming to Alabama, just a couple hours away,” Shelton said. “My dad is going to drive down from Huntsville, and we have some family friends from growing up in Huntsville that now live here in Tuscaloosa. A guy I went to school with will be here. The last couple days I’ve run into some people I know.

“I played all over the state of Alabama growing up, and Tuscaloosa is one of those places I came many times.”

The Jackets have made it to the NCAAs 13 times, all consecutively and all with Shelton as their head coach, but this is the first time since 2004 that they have not been at home for the first weekend of the tournament. That year, they went to Athens.

Being away might not be all bad, and playing Oklahoma State in the first round isn’t exactly punishment, either. The Cowboys played Tech in the fall, and the Jackets won all six singles matches and all three doubles matches against OSU.

“They came for our fall invitational so we’ve seen every player two years in a row,” Shelton said. “We know what to expect for the most part. It’s like any other match; it comes down to being disciplined, playing with good energy and executing.”

Being away from home might not be as comfortable – Shelton alluded to unfamiliar beds and distance from family – yet it might be beneficial as well as the Jackets hope to eliminate Oklahoma State today and then beat the winner of today’s Army-Alabama match.

“One of the positives about being on the road is just that we can be a little bit more focused,” Shelton said. “The team stays a little more united because we’re not all going our separate ways at the end of the practice sessions. We’ve got each other, and that’s it.

“Sometimes, that can be a good thing … we’re just trying to make sure you’ve got to really focus on the things that you can control. We’re really emphasizing that with the team and with each other as they speak up and speak out.”

There will be a couple changes in Tech’s lineup since the ACCs, where the Jackets beat Maryland in the first round, upset Miami in the second, and fell 4-3 to North Carolina in the semis.

Senior Christina Ngo wrenched an ankle the day before the conference tournament, and did not play up there. She’ll return to action today and replace freshman Jasmine Minor at No. 6 singles after playing much of the season at No. 3 herself.

Caroline Lilley replaced Ngo at No. 3 doubles at the ACCs, playing with Muriel Wacker, and Shelton will keep the Lilley-Wacker duo intact.

“I think that gives us some real depth with seniors at No. 5 (Lynn Blau) and No. 6,” Shelton said. “It hasn’t been too often that we’ve had eight players that all feel good. We have some aches and pains, yes, but we feel like we’re at full strength.”

Congratulations to golf coach Bruce Heppler, recent graduate James White, redshirt sophomore Bo Andrews and freshman Anders Albertson. Heppler was named ACC coach of the year Thursday for the second straight year and seventh time overall, and White, Andrews and Albertson drew all-conference honors. Also, a shout out to two-time ACC softball player of the year Kelsi Weseman. The senior third baseman earned first team All-ACC honors for the fourth consecutive time.

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