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Last Time Around

Oct. 9, 2009

by Jon Cooper

ATLANTA — Once you taste success, it’s impossible to get rid of the hunger for more. The more you taste, it the hungrier you get to taste it again.

Georgia Tech senior Amanda McDowell is ravenous.

Her freshman season saw her participate in 50 winning matches (39 singles, 11 doubles), she clinched Tech’s third consecutive ACC Tournament championship, and helped seal the NCAA Team title.

McDowell followed that season by winning 17 of her first 18 matches as a sophomore on her way to a school-record 45 wins, then won the NCAA Singles Championship. She also became the first — and is still the only — Tech female athlete to win national player of the year honors.

She ended up earning a berth in the U.S. Open.

Last year, despite a slow start, and playing through severe back pain, she helped lead Georgia Tech to a fifth straight Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAAs, and teamed with freshman Irina Falconi to win the doubles title at the Riviera/ITA All-American Tournament.

She hasn’t considered curbing her appetite for victories this season.

“This is my last year so I just want to enjoy every second of it, and would like to get one more team title,” said McDowell, who split her first two singles and doubles matches at this year’s Georgia Tech Fall Invitational. “That is my ultimate goal.”

That goal will take a detour this weekend as McDowell and Falconi will be on the West Coast to defend their doubles championship at the 2009 Riviera/ITA All-American Tournament at the Riviera Tennis Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. (Falconi will also compete in singles competition).

It’s a return to the scene of their triumph. Last year, despite being ranked 30th, they dominated the field, finishing the job by upsetting Fresno State’s eighth-ranked duo of Renata Kucerkova and Anastasia Petukhov in the finals.

McDowell has earned quite a reputation for winning.

“She’s got an NCAA team title under her belt, she’s got an NCAA individual singles title under her belt,” said womens coach Bryan Shelton. “Right off the bat that speaks to everyone on this team.

“The biggest thing about her leadership is that it’s by example first and foremost. But I think understanding that we have a very young group of players, she knows that not only does she need to lead by example, but she needs to be vocal. Fortunately we’ve got a team that is willing to follow that lead.”

McDowell raised her credibility a peg last season with the example she set by battling through a back injury that she said affected her most at the end of the season. She still won 14 of her final 17 matches, was named All-ACC for the second straight season and to ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-District III team.

“I think in any sport you’re going to play through a little bit of pain,” she said. “It taught me that I had to be extra focused on the court when I was trying to play through that pain. I wanted to keep my matches as short as possible to really stay on top of my opponent. So I think it helped me to just be focused out there.”

That focus included drawing on her experience.

“Whenever you’re battling through an obstacle on the court, you just try to pull from your positive experiences and some of the success you’ve had in the past,” she said. “Drawing from those experiences and past successes helped me.”

Shelton put it another way.

“It’s that old adage, ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,'” he said. “That’s part of sports. You’re going to have injuries, you’re going to be sick, you’re not going to be at 100 percent all the time. When you don’t have your very best is a lesson for everyone to learn, especially the young ones.”

Falconi has paid close attention to McDowell.

“She’s had success both individually, in doubles, in singles, and the team experience,” said the sophomore who followed in McDowell’s footsteps by playing in the 2009 U.S. Open qualifiers. “Her attitude, her competitive spirit is just unbelievable. That’s kind of her motto on court, ‘Do whatever it takes.’

“She strongly believes in that. I think if we all have the same mentality and spirit on the court, great things are going to happen.”

They’re so close to big-time success they can taste it.

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