April 21, 2005
by Simit Shah – Without a doubt, there’s no one having more fun on Tech’s campus this spring than the women’s tennis team.
The squad just completed a torrid, record-breaking regular season, and they are reveling in their success as they head to postseason play, beginning with the ACC Championships this weekend as tournament’s top seed and the nation’s eighth-ranked team.
“We’re like kids in a candy store right now,” said head coach Bryan Shelton. “They’re having a blast. The AJC did a story last week, and they were tickled to death to see that. So many more people are coming out to our matches, and that gets them pretty excited. They’re excited about the rankings, checking to see where we are each week.”
“It’s been a very exciting and enjoyable ride,” added sophomore Alison Silverio. “It’s just really awesome to be able to see these successful results. We’ve all put in such hard work, so it’s nice to achieve this level of success.”
These levels have never been seen before in the program’s previous 36 seasons. At 16-3 overall and 9-1 in the ACC, the Lady Jackets set school records in both categories. They sit tied atop the conference standings after never having finished higher than fourth and notching two or fewer ACC wins in 14 different seasons.
This season has featured a number of dramatic victories, but none bigger than knocking off then-No. 2 Georgia in Athens in mid-March. The victory was highlighted by a dramatic comeback capped by Alison Silverio’s singles win.
“That was kind of the start for us,” explained Shelton. “Up until that point, we had been playing well against some very good competition, but that was a real validation of the hard work and improvement we’ve made this season.”
“That’s definitely the moment that sticks out,” Silverio stated. “I think we were the only ones that believed that we had a chance to win, and we convinced a lot of people that day about how good we can be.”
The Lady Jackets went on to win the rest of their matches except one lone blemish against 16th-ranked Duke. Last weekend’s win over 13th-ranked UNC clinched a tie of the regular season ACC title.
“It was an amazing feeling on Sunday when Kelly (Anderson) clinched the match,” said Silverio. “It’s something that this program has never done before, and it was just wonderful to be a part of a team to accomplish this goal.”
The final standings left them tied with Miami, but the Lady Jackets downed the Hurricanes earlier in the season thanks to another amazing comeback. That tiebreaker earned them the top seed in this weekend’s ACC Championship, and they await the winner of the Florida State-Virginia match.
“We’ve had a lot of huge moments this year,” said Shelton, a four-time all-ACC performer and all-American at Tech 1985-88. “I remember my career at Tech, and I can’t remember this many huge moments in one single season. This year it seems that every time we turn around, something exciting and great is happening. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Those moments continued to accumulate this week, as Shelton was named ACC Coach of the Year for the second time in four years. Freshman Kristi Miller was selected the conference’s Rookie of the Year after setting the Georgia Tech single-season school record for both singles (37) and doubles victories (25). Miller, Silverio and senior Dasha Potapova all made the all-ACC team.
The accomplishments of this season represent a huge step for the program. In its previous 36 seasons, the team had only sporadic success until Shelton took over the program in 2000. He has lifted the program to a level of consistency. The school earned its first-ever NCAA berth that season and has been in the postseason tournament every season since.
“When I came into this program almost six years ago, I thought it would come a lot quicker than it has,” said Shelton. “But it’s been a blessing that it’s come slowly, because we certainly appreciate it a whole lot more.
“It’s such a great lesson for the kids on this team and even the kids that have graduated. If you want something, you have to work for it. There’s no such thing as a quick-fix. When you work hard and build a foundation, you’ll have something that will last for a while. Hopefully, that’s what we’ve done here.”
The achievements so far this season have already translated to increased interest in the program. In the stands, fans have turned out in record numbers, especially for the final home matches.
“Last year, we didn’t have many people come out to our matches, and there weren’t many articles written about us,” said Silverio. “This year has been amazing. The student body has been extremely supportive, as well as everyone around us. It’s made everything so much more fun.”
Potential recruits have also taken notice, as Shelton has fielded number inquiries in recent months. His team has only one senior, so high expectations for next season are already in order.
“I think the future is looking bright,” he said. “We’re a young team, and from a recruiting standpoint, more doors are going to be open to us now that we’ve had the success we’ve had this year.
“It’s amazing how many kids are contacting me. The kids that are out in California that would never even look at our program are coming out for unofficial visits and want to know more about the program. That’s a lot of fun, knowing that we can look all across the country for the best players.”
Meanwhile, Shelton and his squad are focused on their postseason goals. The coach pointed out that a number of their matches this season were close, so their margin of error has been slim all year.
“Our biggest strength is our competitive spirit and our willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done on the court,” he said. “We know we have to bring that every single time out. If we don’t, it’s going to be a tough and long day.”
“We’re not taking any team lightly,” Silverio emphasized. “We’re going to the ACC Tournament expecting to battle it out every match, and then the same mentality in the NCAA. We’re just very driven to do the best we can. We’re not letting anything go to our heads. When you’re on top, everyone is coming to get you.”