April 15, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
– Should you attend either of Georgia Tech’s final two regular-season tennis matches today or Sunday, the difference you will see between Sasha Krupina now and then shall be less stark at first glance than the reality of the matter.
The lone senior Yellow Jacket is still a lot of arms and legs; she’s really tall.
There is, however, so much more in Tech’s captain than meets the eye. If someone had suggested upon her arrival in 2007 that’s she’d one day be elected to that role by her peers, coach Bryan Shelton might’ve missed a breath or two.
“She was almost 6-2, and didn’t have very good body control, and didn’t have very good emotional control at the time, either,” Shelton said. “When you have someone who’s that athletic but doesn’t have full control of body parts, and is a little bit emotionally unstable, it’s tough.”
That does not read like the foundation for leadership.
“In the beginning, I think she was more like a child,” Shelton continued. “As you discipline your children, sometimes they fall in line and sometimes they take a while. Sasha was one of those players that it took a little longer.
“She would call it freaking out on the court. She’d say, `I’m freaking out!’ We definitely had some battles those first couple years. Luckily, it looks like I won out.”
Krupina was more like a child. She was 17 upon arrival at Tech, and a long way from her hometown of Moscow, Russia.
Shelton discovered her through the suggestion of a friend, as Krupina was schooling at the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It was a quick recruitment. Tech was playing tennis in the area on spring break, Shelton was tipped, he showed up and saw a big serve and soon started his sales pitch.
Krupina has come a long, long way.
“I didn’t control my emotional state and exhibit confidence on the court,” she said upon reflection. “I think the four years have helped me develop more than any four years in my life in that regard. I think it’s kind of transferred from my life experiences to my court experiences back and forth.
“I was talking to coach Shelton the other day about how I want to end my final season, how I want to have some positive goals. And he said something along the lines of, `Four years ago to now, you are almost like an entirely different person,’ and I agree with that.”
Krupina hardly talked with Shelton as a freshman. Now, she speaks with him regularly like an adult, not that she has it all figured out. She has majored in industrial engineering and now majors in economics and German with interests ranging from graduate school to international diplomacy or perhaps teaching.
She says her future plans, which begin unfolding more quickly after she graduates in December, “are a work in progress.”
There is an ironic twist here — she has come to have almost too much control. This part you probably won’t be able to see today when the No. 13-ranked Jackets play Virginia Tech (noon) nor Sunday against No. 18 Virginia (noon).
Krupina has aced part of the captain’s job; another part is a work in progress.
“I give her a hard time and tell her that she’s motherly,” Shelton said. “For a 20-year-old, she definitely likes to take care of the other girls. I think her leadership genuinely comes from caring for people. She’s not one to ruffle a lot of feathers, although sometimes I wish she would.”
Krupina, who’s mother will visit from Moscow next month, is proud of her emotional, athletic, academic and intellectual maturation. She admits there’s more room to grow in this role.
“A lot of people describe me as caring. I wouldn’t go as far as motherly; I’m too young for that,” she said with a grin upon hearing of her coach’s comment. “I guess that’s something I need to work on because sometimes you need to be a little rough and straight with people. I’ve been trying that without offending.”
Krupina didn’t appear to take genuine offense at being called motherly.
Shelton sounds genuinely fatherly when talking about her.
“She was out of control. One or two misses, and she was ready to explode,” the coach said of Krupina the kid. “It’s fun to see that maturation process. Now, she can sustain longer rallies, and be tough throughout longer points. She can also withstand losing multiple points or games and maintain her composure.
“She’s gone from a student that was just getting by to excelling, almost making straight A’s. Her first two years, I personally didn’t hear her speak up a lot. She was following everyone else’s lead. To see her evolve and stop into my office daily and talk, and kind of share what’s going on, her plans . . . to where she was voted captain . . . I don’t think that’s something that our girls take lightly.”
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