May 9, 2002
By Simit Shah – Pure and simple, Laura Ozolins is a perfectionist on and off the tennis court.
Exhibit A: In her first quarter at Georgia Tech, Ozolins received a B in freshman English. Since that moment four years ago, Ozolins has a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Exhibit B: In early April this year, Ozolins lost the deciding match against Clemson. Just two weeks later at the ACC Tournament, she was in the exact same position against the Tigers. This time she won a three-set thriller to advance the Lady Jackets to the conference semifinals for only the second time in eight years.
That match was “my moment that I’ll remember forever. I went out with a bang,” the senior said.
“For her to come back like that in the ACC Tournament, that’s pretty big,” said her coach, Bryan Shelton. “You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve been there. You’re the last person on the court, and you realize it’s on you whether your team advances or goes home.”
Delivering in key situations has become Ozolins’ forte during her career at Georgia Tech. She has been one of the cornerstones of the women’s tennis program as it has earned three consecutive NCAA Tournament bids.
The 22nd-ranked squad takes on Michigan in the opening round Friday in Lexington, Ky.
The Toronto, Canada, native came to Tech four years ago after deciding to pursue her education and tennis career in the United States. She had never heard of Georgia Tech, but came across the school while researching American colleges. The athletic and academic programs seemed like the right fit, so she chose to come to Atlanta.
Moving to a new country wasn’t quite the culture shock that most international students face, though there aren’t many fellow countrymen on the Tech campus.
“I’ve met only one or two Canadian students in the four years I’ve been here,” she said.
Ozolins does admit to having to set others straight about misconceptions about our northern neighbors, as well as putting up with the redundant comments about fellow Canadians Celine Dion, Bryan Adams and Shania Twain.
“People are surprised when I tell them it’s only a 14-hour drive right up 75,” she said. “It’s really not that much different, just a little more relaxed than life here.”
The easy-going Ozolins is anything but relaxed in the classroom. The biology major’s nearly perfect academic record is even more impressive considering the course load she juggles while playing tennis.
Though her schedule is technically 12 course hours per week, lab work extends her academic schedule to more than 25 hours each week. Ozolins then hits the tennis court for two or three hours a day. And that doesn’t include the time spent traveling and competing.
“It’s very hard,” she said. “I feel like I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of things over the years, in terms of social life and so on.
“Academics have always been important to me, and I manage my time pretty well. I’m a procrastinator, but I’m efficient when I do things.”
On track to graduate in the fall, Ozolins is focused on getting into a top-tier medical school next year. First up this summer is a trip to the African country of Ghana, where she’s participating a five-week pre-med volunteer program.
“It’s something I’m very excited about,” she said. “I think I’ll have a chance to see and learn a lot.”
Though her collegiate days on the court are numbered, Ozolins has certainly earned the respect of her teammates, classmates and coaches.
“I think Laura definitely learns from the past and applies that in the future,” Shelton said. “She knows how to prepare. She got herself ready physically and mentally for the ACC Tournament, and she came through for us.
“It’s the same thing in the classroom. She’s not just looking to make an ‘A,’ but she wants the highest grade in the class. That’s the way she approaches everything in her life – she shoots for the top.
And does that early blemish on her academic record still bother her?
“Of course it does. I’ve tried to figure out a way to take it over,” she laughed.