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Mind Over Matter

April 21, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

“I believe.”

They’re two simple words, yet the difference between saying it and meaning it, can make the difference between winning and losing.

Georgia Tech senior Dean O’Brien knows. He’s been on both sides of that fence.

Fortunately for the No. 16 Yellow Jackets, this spring he’s been back on the right side of it, again.

“I’d say that the biggest difference between this semester maybe to prior semesters is confidence,” said the 20-year-old native of Benmore, South Africa (for a look at the exquisite vacation home that his family owns on the Jejane Nature Reserve, check out http://ramblinwreck.cstv.com/view.gal?id=62721). “I got off to a good start. I think in my third match, I managed to clinch against Georgia. That set my confidence on fire. It made me really believe that the coaches believed in me and that I could be a guy that could win in pressure situations, which made it a lot easier for me to play when it got tight. I felt that my teammates and my coaches believed that I could win.”

O’Brien won, 6-4, 6-2, over Boston College’s Jonathan Schroeder on Thursday afternoon, as Georgia Tech swept the Eagles, 4-0, in the first round of the ACC Tournament, being played in Cary, N.C. The win, his 11th in his last 12 finished matches (he led another match 6-3, 2-1, when play was called), helped assure that the Yellow Jackets would play another day (that will be tomorrow morning beginning at 9:00 a.m., against Miami, which edged Tech, 4-3, on March 13 in Coral Gables).

It also was his second win of the day, as O’Brien and partner Guillermo Gomez took care of business, 8-1, in their doubles match.

The singles win raised O’Brien’s record to 16-9, 11-1 in the ACC, while the `W’ in doubles gave him and Gomez a 21-6 mark, 10-2 within the conference.

It’s the kind of play Georgia Tech was hoping for from O’Brien, when he transferred from Tennessee Tech after earning Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year for 2008-2009.

Yet shortly after he started playing for Tech, things began to go the other way.

“I found that first of all, the competition was definitely a little bit tougher,” he recalled. “I was having a decent season. Then I had one or two bad losses and then I started worrying about maybe some technical issues. Then I lost a couple more matches and my confidence just took a big knock. From there it was very difficult to come back.”

Before he knew it, O’Brien, who downplayed an elbow injury, had thought himself into a full-on slump.

“It ended up becoming not as confident as I was, doubting a little bit and that just made me not play as well,” he said. “I started to get more tight in situations where I wouldn’t usually. I wasn’t thinking the correct way. I wasn’t playing to win. I was just playing to hopefully win. I wasn’t doing the things I needed to do to win.”

He brought a 3-7 record from the 2010 Indoor season into his final spring season.

Then came Feb. 12, 2011 at the Moore Center, and the match against Georgia.

Things started badly, as he and Gomez fell behind 0-6 in their doubles match. They fought back, eventually falling, 8-6.

But their rally seemed to inspire the Yellow Jackets, who were determined to fight back against the higher-ranked Bulldogs. Soon it was 3-3, with one match left.

O’Brien was battling Ignacio Taboada with the match on the line and he’d already dropped the first set. There was more time to think about hopefully. There was no more time to think, period.

He had to play. He had to make it happen. He had to believe.

O’Brien took the second set, 6-3. In the third set, he stared down two match points, before taking the match, 7-5, giving Georgia Tech its first win in over UGA in 23 years.

Suddenly everything was working again.

“I played a lot more confidently under pressure situations and big points,” said O’Brien, who has made the most of his opportunity to play at No. 5, with Juan Spir’s injury. “I would be a lot more aggressive and a lot more bold and believe in my athleticism and technique and it was all fine. It all came into place.”

He’s also found chemistry with Gomez.

“We understand each other very well, we never get upset with each other, even when we’re down match points, we still feel that we can win,” he said. “There’s never indecision. Whenever the ball is there we go for it and whatever happens happens. We know that each other wants to win as badly as possible and we do whatever we can to win. There’s never any, ‘Maybe it’s his ball, maybe it’s mine.’ If the ball is there we go. It’s been working for us very well.”

O’Brien hopes things continue to go very well in his final go-round, especially with Georgia Tech in ACC Tournament play and NCAA play to follow.

“I definitely know that [my college career is] coming to an end,” he said. “It’s not a scary feeling but maybe a little bit unsettling to think that it’s already almost over. I’m still 20 and it’s almost over. But I also realize that I’ve done all I can, I’ve worked very hard and I’m looking forward to turning pro and hopefully being able to do something.”

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