Feb. 27, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Senior Day in every sport is an emotional one.
Senior Day for the 2010-11 women’s basketball team was especially so.
When Alex Montgomery and Deja Foster made their final appearances at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at yesterday’s game against Miami, It marked the end of an important formative era in the on-going rise of Georgia Tech basketball.
“Alex and Deja have had tremendous impact on this program from Day One,” said head coach MaChelle Joseph. “From the time they stepped on campus at Georgia Tech, they changed our program, both in different ways and collectively in the same way.
“Deja has been a tremendous leader for this program, both on and off the floor,” Joseph continued. “Alex, obviously, is a tremendous talent and just a tremendous competitor. She has really taken the level of this program up a whole other notch.”
In the days leading up to Sunday’s game, Montgomery, who hit one of the biggest shots of her career as a freshman to beat the ‘Canes, and Foster put that final home game into perspective.
“My first thought is I’m getting old,” said Montgomery with a laugh. “My second thought is just go out there and play for my teammates. There have been plenty of times where seniors before me asked me to put it all out there and I did. I’m hoping my teammates put it all out there for me and Deja.”
“I know it’s going to be emotional. I’m not a big person on goodbyes,” said Foster. “It’s bittersweet. I’m excited but I’m also scared because it’s the last one. I want to be a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket for the rest of my life.”
That won’t be an issue, as both have left their mark.
No senior class at Georgia Tech has won more than this senior class, as even with the 70-59 defeat against 12th-ranked Miami Sunday afternoon at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, this class has already taken home 88 victories and 32 ACC wins, tying last year’s group. And there is still so much more to play for, like the ACC Tournament, which begins on Thursday at the Greensboro Coliseum (the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets will take on Virginia Tech at 11 a.m.), then the NCAA Tournament, where Tech should make its fourth consecutive appearance, which begins March 19.
But the careers of Foster and Montgomery were about so much more than just wins and losses. The ‘W’s were the final destination, but they were as much about the journey.
Their journey began as freshman roommates and continued through being senior captains. Each endured severe knee injuries, but knew they could count on each other as they fought their way back.
“When I tore my ACL and I was coming back [Alex] was always giving me encouragement,” said Foster. “Just being the classmate, the friend, the sister that we’ve grown to become to each other.”
“Deja and I have been through a lot, with injuries and stuff, but we managed to bounce back,” said Montgomery. “It’s been very competitive, motivating. It’s been crazy. But the four years that we’ve been here it’s been really fun.”
The winning has been the most fun, yet the heights they’ve reached were pipe dreams for Joseph, whose program was still in the formative stage — her best season record as head coach was 14-15. Their commitment changed everything and forever bonded the players and coach.
“The thing that has endeared them the most to me is the fact that they did take a chance on Georgia Tech and on me when we were unproven,” said Joseph. “That showed a tremendous amount of faith on their part. Both of them could have gone anywhere but they chose to come to Georgia Tech. It hasn’t been easy, changing a program, changing a culture and I honestly feel like we did it together.
“Now it’s easy to say, `I’m going to Georgia Tech.’ We’ve had five 20-win seasons in a row,” Joseph added. “But back when they were making their decision, as long as I had been head coach we had not even had a winning record and both of them took a chance on Georgia Tech, and, obviously, you see the results of what they’ve been able to accomplish since they’ve been here.”
“We’ve had our ups and downs but most of all she’s been there for me,” said Montgomery. “She’s like a second mother to me. She’s done everything to be there for me.”
Joseph’s had a similar influence on Foster.
“She’s done a lot for me individually,” she said. “I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here. Hopefully one day I’ll be in her shoes coaching somewhere. But she’s taught me a lot. Not just on the court but off the court.”
On the court numbers speak for themselves, as since their arrival on The Flats, the Yellow Jackets have won no fewer than 22 games and each of the four senior classes has raised the bar in career wins. Montgomery scored 13 points in the finale and became only the seventh player in program history to top the 1,500-point mark.
But the duo grew as much as people while they were growing the Georgia Tech women’s hoops.
Foster will graduate with a Management degree, and has made the Dean’s List six times.
“It’s very hard at Georgia Tech to be named to the Dean’s List ONE time, let alone six times and play forward at the highest level. She’s been able to do that,” said Joseph. “Deja, she saw this as a stepping stone to a future she couldn’t have otherwise. She’s taken full advantage of all the opportunities that Georgia Tech presents, especially on the academic side, and that’s the thing that I’m probably most proud of her about.
“I knew she was a great athlete and was going to really help us on the basketball floor, but I had no idea of the discipline that she had off the floor and the passion she had for her academics.”
Montgomery, who came to Atlanta from Tacoma, Wash., brought unprecedented star power to the program. She harbors dreams of playing professionally, either in the WNBA or abroad.
“Alex came a long way and took a huge chance on a program,” said Joseph. “She was the highest-ranked player ever to come to our program, she was ranked 15th in the country coming out of high school.”
Their collegiate work is not done, as postseason awaits, but both Foster and Montgomery are proud of the state of the program and its future, with the big senior class coming back and the potential of freshman sensation Tyaunna Marshall.
“I see the program getting 20-plus wins or being in first place in the ACC because [Ty’s] a phenomenal player and with the five seniors coming back, they’re going to be great,” said Montgomery. “I don’t see a change, really. Just them doing better things than what we have this year.”
The future is promising, yet, for Joseph while she realizes the cycle goes on, she already knows something will be different when they take the floor to begin 2011-12.
That’s the bitter in the bittersweet of saying goodbye to seniors in college athletics. In the end, though, the sweet far outweighs the bitter.
“It’s been a great, great, great four years,” Foster said. “The ups the downs, the sideways, everything. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change anything. That’s just how it is. I love Georgia Tech and I love what it’s done for me and I love Coach Jo and I love everybody who’s been a part of helping me grow.”
“[My favorite thing], I would have to say the fans,” Montgomery added. “Without the fans, nothing could be possible here. Just knowing that they’re by your side and then on top of that, my teammates, the love that I have for them and the love that they have for me, is just great. I will never forget my college career. It’s always going to stick with me.”