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Netters Kick it Off at Home

by Jon Cooper, OSR Contributing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA

ATLANTA — A little more than a week after the football team’s successful “White Out” at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team is hoping for similar support this weekend as they open their fall season Friday against Florida, Georgia and Princeton in the Georgia Tech Fall Invitational at the Moore Tennis Center.

“When you get to play in front of your fans, there’s nothing better,” said coach Bryan Shelton, who begins his 11th season as head coach. “You see it in basketball, you see it in football, you see whether it’s professional or college sports, you see that the home team is tough to beat. It’s not different with tennis. We feel like we have a distinct advantage when we get to play at home.”

Should the weather cooperate this weekend, Shelton hopes his team can capitalize on the energy and fervor of the home crowd and gain an edge on the powerful competition.

Princeton is the defending Ivy League champion, Miami reached the Elite Eight and finished ranked No. 7, led by NCAA singles runner-up Laura Vallverdu, and Georgia finished No. 3 and reached the Final Four, led by sophomore Chelsey Gullickson, a semifinalist in the 2009 NCAA Singles Tournament. Coincidentally, Gullickson lost to Vallverdu in a thrilling three-set semifinal in last year’s NCAAs.

Senior Amanda McDowell and All-America sophomore Irina Falconi lead a Tech team that returns six letter winners from last season’s squad that finished No. 8 overall and reached the Sweet 16.

Junior Sasha Krupina, and sophomores Viet Ha Ngo, Hillary Davis and Lynn Blau will see action, looking to build on last season. The tournament also marks the much-anticipated collegiate debut of true freshman Elizabeth Kilborn, who led Marietta’s Walton High to four straight region and state titles and a 116-0 mark.

“I know we have a very young team, but at the same time a very dedicated team,” said Shelton. ” I think that they have completely bought into what we’re trying to do with their games, what we’re trying to do as a program, as a team.

“With this group it starts with one of their mottos, which is ‘No drama,’ ” he added with a laugh. “If you [do] not have drama out there, either off the court or on the court, on a regular basis you’re ahead of most teams. So from that standpoint, I think they’re committed to working together as a team and understanding we have individuals but always putting the team first and putting one another first.”

Shelton believes his team matches up well with these powerful schools and that the tournament is an opportunity to make a statement.

“We’re sending a message to all the prospects out there and anyone else that school comes first, but we have a strong enough program that we’re able to draw great schools here to Georgia Tech,” he said. “Being able to bring in schools like Miami and Princeton and UGA this weekend to Atlanta, and be able to hold a quality event, where every match is against great competition, it gives us a great start to our season.”

Shelton added that his team won’t be the only beneficiary of this weekend’s action.

“Our fans and people around the Atlanta area who are into tennis can come out and really be excited from watching great tennis being played on our home court,” he said.

Play begins this morning (Friday) at 9:30, at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday and at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday.

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