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No Longer Just a Diversion

March 4, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– There came an early afternoon inkling on Friday to whip up something on the women’s basketball team because the Yellow Jackets beat No. 13 Maryland in the ACC quarterfinals, and that struck first as a fine diversionary tale.

A few minutes of deeper thought made the notion of mis-using the story of Georgia Tech school record-tying 23rd win seem a crime.

Coach MaChelle Joseph and her team deserve so much more than being looked upon as a diversion, or a secondary attraction.

Joseph would SURELY tell you the same thing. In fact, she said it one day earlier after the Jackets (23-9) whipped Virginia Tech in the first round. Without being prompted, really, Joseph sewed her heart to her sleeve and said:

“We’re very focused on what we to do and that was to earn some respect for our team. We played a top 20 schedule . . . but have not been able to get in the top 25 for some reason.”

Point taken, coach. Respect earned.

These Jackets have won the right to have you checking for their scores when you’re unable to watch or attend games. They’ve won 23 games two years in a row, and are going to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight time.

Yet with all things being cyclical and this overall athletic year not measuring up to the last at Tech, I was first guilty Friday of the same thing as others when I thought, “Hmm; that’s pretty nice.”

Looking through a small prism, I thought of the football team losing its footing, the men’s basketball team struggling, and the baseball team falling twice already to in-state schools, neither located in Athens. The softball team – with all but one starter back from an ACC championship team — recently dropped four out of five, and both track teams fell short in the ACC indoor championships.

There have been up moments, chief among them the men’s tennis team beating Georgia for the first time in 23 years. Yet as Tech topped Maryland 70-64 Friday the first thought was that it was by comparison a great turn of events. With the benefit of context, it should be clear that the Jackets have earned so much more than note in the record book because of what they’ve endured.

The ACC is every year a brutal row to hoe when it comes to women’s basketball, and the Jackets have taken their lumps from time to time.

Duke and North Carolina are perpetual national contenders. Maryland won a national title a few years ago. Miami has risen.

Tech had to play in Thursday’s first round at the ACC Tournament after tying Maryland for fourth place in the regular season only because the Jacket lost to the Terrapins in the regular season. That was beyond brutal. The Terps won on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

No wonder senior Alex Montgomery said after Thursday’s win over Virginia Tech that the pending rematch with Maryland was about “payback.”

Still, looking at history, Tech faced uphill. The Jackets were 3-22 in ACC quarterfinal games before winning last year. When the Terps ripped off a 22-2 run over the end of the first half and the beginning of the second Friday to take an 11-point lead, well, the Jackets were not exactly climbing.

There would be a considerable change of tide, however, as the Jackets took off on a 21-3 streak, senior Sasha Goodlett frequently factoring large.

If there was a clincher, it came as the Jackets broke the Maryland press late, and Goodlett gathered a pass just across mid-court and threw a perfect pass just over a defender and to the streaking Montgomery.

Back from the devastating knee injury suffered two years ago in the ACC tournament, Montgomery caught the ball, put a foot but not the ball on the floor, hopped into a successful layup and was fouled. Her free throw with 1:12 left put Tech in clover, up 67-62.

Montgomery scored 11 straight Tech points in the final four-plus minutes on the way to 17 total.

The Jackets worked their way into green the hard way; the Terps entered the game No. 3 in the nation in rebounding margin at +13 yet Tech won 36-27 on the boards.

Goodlett tied her season high with 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds. In the aftermath, Joseph was asked the key and she did not delay.

Sasha Goodlett,” the coach said. “The first time we played Maryland, we didn’t have an inside game. One of the things we pride ourselves, in, we’ve only been out-rebounded four times a year . . . it’s not the number, it’s the margin.”

Tech made a season-high nine 3-pointers Thursday, when they also registered 20 steals against Virginia Tech. Friday, the Jackets out-rebounded one of the nation’s best rebounding teams.

That summarizes this team; when they’re on, they do what they need to do, and you might not always be able to predict who is going to lead the way in doing it.

The season began with senior Deja Foster on the sideline, nursing a serious knee injury.

Danielle Hamilton-Carter was unavailable because of a ruling related to her having played for a Swedish club team that the NCAA deemed semi-professional. She was expected to be a significant factor upon a December return, but took a while to work her way into significance.

Freshman point guard Dawnn Maye was to add instant speed, a change-of-pace backup, but her development didn’t match expectation for much of the season. Recently, Maye’s moved into more minutes; she had six steals and as many assists against Virginia Tech.

A couple of Swedish freshmen whose sharp-shooting skills were coveted before the season have not lit it up from afar quite as expected, although Frida Fogdemark and Sandra Ngoie-Hasahya each hit one Thursday.

Joseph shortened her rotation to eight players against Maryland (23-7). Hamilton-Carter was the only one of the three Swedes to play, in her case for eight minutes as her size was of import. Maye did not play.

Foster did not score from the field. More importantly, the guard led all players with a season-high 10 rebounds. Ty Marshall came off the bench, scoring 16.

In all, a stand-apart effort.

Ladies, sorry I wasn’t there. I watched, though, and I gotta say, `Now that is how you compete!’

Today, Duke. More payback? The motive is there. The Blue Devils laced the Jackets in Durham a while back. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted to the last time we played Duke,” Joseph said, “and we’ve kind of been marking this one on our calendar as one we’d like to play.”

If you want to see for yourself, tune in to FS South Saturday.

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