May 15, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Gonna go out on a limb and suggest that the weekend just completed was the greatest on campus for the combination of the Georgia Tech men’s and women’s tennis teams, which would explain all the running around, jumping, hollering and hugging.
It was, after all, the first time both programs hosted NCAA first- and second-round action simultaneously. All that was made exponentially better Sunday when . . .
Members of the men’s team – who on Saturday clinched a trip to Stanford to compete in the “Sweet 16” of college tennis, or “The Championships” – were going fairly bananas in the stands at the Bill Moore Tennis Center.
They were going nuts because the 16th-ranked Tech women were playing to punch the very same ticket, to Stanford and “The Championships.”
So to say that mirth bubbled over when Elizabeth Kilborn won on Court Six to sew up a 4-1 win over No. 17 Arizona State and clinch a trip west would be to unnecessarily downgrade the value of a good, under-used word like mirth.
Truth is, words aren’t always sufficient. Yet try we must in this format. Here’s Kilborn giving it a shot:
“The crowd was awesome; [the men] were very loud. [After the clinching point] I didn’t really look back at the crowd. I looked at my teammates. They were fired up. Jillian [O’Neill] was on Court One [where she had won], and came running down. As soon as I finished, the crowd was really loud behind my court.
“Caroline [Lilley] was on Court Two, and I was kind of the first with a chance to clinch. That’s why a lot of people were behind my court. When I did, Jillian and Caroline and Coach [Shelton] all came running at me.”
All during the week, the men and women and their coaches did not treat the fact that they were playing simultaneous hosts to the NCAAs as coincidence. If it was considered fate, it was to be followed through on not finished on The Flats.
It was opportunity, and golden at that.
The men had not advanced to the championships since 1994. The women (15-10) at times scuffled through a school year that had more motion than Shelton is accustomed to with new faces and the movement of players to new places.
“We definitely had a different look, bringing in quite a few new players,” said Shelton. “Throughout the season we had players moving around in the lineup, doubles teams getting shifted around trying to find what would work.
“There were a lot of moving parts this year. It was a lot of fun today to see the girls play so well. There’s a lot of good mojo here. We had a lot to play for, and I think our girls responded. They were playing to win, not to avoid losing.”
The Jackets started out by winning the doubles point when the pairs of Lilley/O’Neill and Lynn Blau/Kilborn won 8-4 and 8-6, respectively. Shelton and assistant Alison Silverio have spent considerable time focusing on doubles play recently, more than the boss can remember doing that in quite some time.
Winning the doubles point sends singles players back out on the court with that much more confidence. Tech (15-10) is 15-0 when winning the doubles point, and if you do a little math you can figure out the alternative.
After doubles play, Blau fell at No. 4 singles to tie the match, O’Neill (ranked No. 32) beat No. 19 Kelcy McKenna 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1 singles, and Sasha Krupina – Tech’s only senior — prevailed 6-3, 6-0 at No. 5 singles.
Playing at home, with the doubles point in the back pocket, with a fantastic crowd on hand all multiples the effect.
When Kilborn won to ensure that both the men’s and women’s teams will have bigger fan bases in attendance later this week that either would have if they were making the trip alone, an opportunity was cashed in.
It was olde golden.
“That’s exactly right,” said head coach Bryan Shelton. “I think the two teams fed off each other, and getting to be out here [Saturday] and see the men play so well and compete so well under pressure gave us confidence.
“And to see them – and hear them – and see [men’s] coach [Kenny] Thorne and his whole family there supporting us, it’s hard not to get fired up and think something good is going to happen.”
Kilborn made sure of it. She’s played Arizona State’s Sianna Simmons many times over the years, dating back to when they were 8- and 9-years old and Kilborn was growing up in Marietta and Simmons in Peachtree City.
There were no surprises, unless you count the uncommon presence of an entire family.
“My dad is a huge tennis fan; he’s always there. My mom is there most of the time,” Kilborn said. “My older sister [Katie] graduated Friday from Vanderbilt, and she almost never sees me play, and same with my brother [Bradley]. He’s a senior at Walton [High] and doesn’t come much.
“It was awesome to see [the men] get a win yesterday and get out to Stanford, and before the match we knew we wanted to make it. I was very familiar with my opponent. It was exciting, a great day.”
Make that back-to-back great, exciting days. If you have any details, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.