Jan. 19, 2012
By Jon Cooper
It’s never too early to make a statement.
Ranked No. 13 in the preseason polls, the Georgia Tech Women’s Tennis Team is eager to make a big one, when it opens its home schedule Saturday afternoon, welcoming No. 7 Georgia to the Bill Moore Tennis Center. The match begins at 1:00 p.m.
The Yellow Jackets couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start last weekend, as they went 3-0 at the Michigan Invitational held in Ann Arbor. The Jackets topped Arkansas and Washington 11-1, sweeping singles both days, then topped the hosts, 6-3, sweeping doubles.
“We made it up north, no mishaps up there, played some good tennis, and we’re happy to get off to a good start,” said Head Coach Bryan Shelton.
So who’s ready for some intrastate hostilities?
“We’re definitely looking forward to this one,” said senior Jillian O’Neill, who was 2-1 playing at No.1 singles, including a win over 10th-ranked Denise Dy (7-6, 4-6, 7-6), and was 2-0 in doubles. “They’re definitely a good team and throw out a deep line up. But our lineup is just as deep. It’s going to be a battle but I think if we do what we need to do we can definitely come out on top.”
“Obviously it’s a very big rivalry. Everyone’s excited to play,” agreed junior Elizabeth Kilborn, who went 3-0 in singles in Ann Arbor and was 3-0 in doubles, teaming with senior Lynn Blau. “We just have to go out there and focus on the point at hand, control our emotions, don’t get too hyped up and just focus on the tennis and take it like we take any other match.”
Georgia holds a 19-4 all-time edge in the series, but the teams have split the last eight meetings, with Tech winning two of the last three at the Bill Moore Tennis Center.
Shelton knows the rivalry from his days at Tech. He called Saturday’s match important but kept an eye on the bigger picture.
“It’s certainly a big match for us but I think if it was the biggest match of the year we’d save it until the end of the year when we’re at our very best, because we hope to get better as the season goes along,” he said. “We decided to play this match early and help both teams kind of get a little bit of a jump start and to get ready for National Team Indoors which we will try to qualify for next weekend.
“We still want to win, there’s no doubt about that,” he added. “We’re going to do everything in our power to get the job done. But at this stage of the season, we’re just looking to go out there and compete really hard and to battle. Really it’s more about playing smart tennis and doing the right things on the court at the right time and to relax under pressure.”
The players certainly don’t seem to be too tight going in.
“”Every time I play Georgia, there’s just a little bit of extra incentive to win,” said Kilborn, a Marietta native. “I have a lot of friends at Georgia, so it’s fun. It’s something that’s fun to be a part of. It’s fun to be at a school with a big state rivalry like here.”
“We’re really excited,” added Blau. “We’re excited for our first dual match, especially at home and having UGA is even bigger.”
Shelton believes that regardless of the final result, the match is a win-win situation as a measuring stick for his team.
“They’ve got a lot of depth. They’re going to be tough from 1 to 6 and 1 to 3 doubles. So if we go out there and we execute and we get the job done, we’re going to gain a lot of confidence,” he said. “If we don’t execute as well as we want there’s a good chance that we might lose and so we’re going to learn a lot one way or the other. That’s going to help to really make our practices that much better after that match because we’re going to learn a lot because we’re going to be under a lot of pressure.
“It’s going to come down to executing, handling the pressure, and executing under pressure,” he added. “The team that does that the best is going to come out on top on Saturday.” it will be important for us not to over-hype it ourselves and to be able to go out and relax and play our best tennis.”
Tech’s fans could go a long way toward relieving some of that pressure.
“Hopefully we’ll have a lot of support tomorrow,” said Kilborn. “At Tech, any time we play Georgia, everyone rallies around us, no matter what team it is. Hopefully we’ll have a lot of fans out here.”
“We’re really looking forward to playing them on our home court in front of our home crowd,” said Blau. “It looks like it’s going to be an indoor match so it’s going to be even more exciting because the crowd can get loud. It’s my last year playing them so I really want to perform well so they’ll remember me well.”