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Choo-choo! Here Come The Jackets

Oct. 21, 2009

by Matt Winkeljohn
Managing Editor

ATLANTA – Were you to affix an audio signal to every athletic team at Georgia Tech, MaChelle Joseph’s squad would wear the whistle, and not one of those puny things she has around her neck.

You know, the one that goes off on the hour on campus, the one that blows after the football team wins?

Yeah, that one. The loud one. The one that prompts you to turn and look for a train.

Joseph doesn’t do shrinking violet. She doesn’t poor mouth. If you’re looking for excuses, leave.

The women’s basketball team is on a roll, having won 20-plus games in three consecutive seasons for the first time in school history, and making the NCAA Tournament each time – another school first.

If you didn’t know this, you learned it Tuesday when the Jackets’ engineer, er, coach followed football coach Paul Johnson at his weekly press conference.

Hoping to capture some of the media on hand to visit with the coach of the No. 11-ranked Jackets, Tech officials brought in Joseph and junior Alex Montgomery.

Just one thing: Joseph needs little, if any, help pushing her program.

Immediately after a perfunctory thank you, she launched into a machine-gun backgrounder on her team, mentioning the very facts above, and then a fore-grounder of sorts. The coach is something like a train, a locomotive that has awakened Tech’s potential and would startle even the deepest sleeper from a slumber if she was in the same neighborhood.

“I can tell you that this is probably the deepest and most talented team that I have had since I’ve been at Georgia Tech,” she said. “Top to bottom, I feel like we have a chance to compete at the very top of the ACC and across the country. Athlon Sports ranked us as high as 9th in the country in their preseason poll and another magazine ranked us in the top 15.

“Needless to say, expectations are very, very high. I don’t think our team, our staff, or our players expect anything less than finishing in the top three in the ACC and want a chance to not only advance in the NCAA tournament, but to get into the Sweet 16. Our goals are very, very high. If we can stay healthy, then I think that the sky is the limit for this team. I’m very excited.”

She said all that and more in about the first 12 seconds, bam-bam-bam, in your face.

Finish in the top three in the ACC, and you’re among stars, as North Carolina (one), Duke and Maryland (one) have won a pair NCAA titles amongst them, and challenged for more. That’s saying something given the twin monsters of Connecticut and Tennessee – winners of 11 of the past 15 titles — ever looming on the national landscape like mountains.

Speaking of the Huskies and Vols, “Over the next two years we’re adding Connecticut and Tennessee to our schedule,” Joseph said. “We can’t be the best if we don’t play the best. I have high expectations, and I know that our players have high expectations. I have no problem with saying that I want to win a championship because that’s what I said seven years ago when I took this job.”

So, if you like a good train, and you want to see one run over something, check out the Tech women.

Their first game will be Nov. 13 at home against Winthrop in the WNIT. Although Montgomery, a guard-forward, is expected to miss the first few games of the season, the Jackets have proven they’re capable without her.

After she tore an anterior cruciate knee ligament in the ACC Tournament last spring, Tech entered the NCAA Tournament and won their first game, at Iowa, without the Jackets’ leading scorer and rebounder.

“Looking back, I remember thinking, `They made it without me,’ ” Montgomery said Tuesday. “With me, I know they can make it.”

Tech returns four starters, all 6-feet or taller in Montgomery (6-1), Deja Foster (6-feet), Brigitte Ardossi (6-2) and Sasha Goodlett (6-5).

Add a top-notch recruiting class of four that includes 6-2 Jasmine Blain, 6-4 Danielle Hamilton-Carter and 6-5 Shayla Bivins, and this will be a big train. The Jackets have 10 players 6-feet or taller, four over 6-4.

The other freshman, Sharena Taylor, is 5-9, and may be in line for substantial minutes at point guard along with sophomore Metra Walthour (5-6).

Montgomery’s early absence will test the Jackets, especially as they play in the WNIT with a possible trip to vaunted Oklahoma State as a reward if Tech beats Winthrop.

“Deja went from averaging two points as a freshman to being our second leading scorer at the end of last season,” Joseph said. “She is the hardest worker I have ever coached. Obviously, she’s the key to our defense. We have a pressing, running and trapping style of defense. And with Alex out early, Deja is going to have to take on a bigger role.”

Ah yes, the pressing, running, trapping style – like a train on hardwood.

Listen, and you can hear the whistle. You need not be close.

“Well, I don’t think that you can live in fear of anything,” Joseph said. “I tell our players that they can’t play this game afraid. I’m not afraid to say that we have a tremendous amount of talent. I put a lot of pressure on myself, because we have everything at Georgia Tech that we need to be successful. I have no excuses.

“I’m not afraid of taking on those kinds of challenges… We need to get some national attention and exposure. You know, you get out there and you’re playing in the Sweet Sixteen or the Elite Eight and have a chance to advance to the Final Four. That’s what it’s all about.”

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