April 12, 2005
By Cheryl Watts – When tiny 5-6 senior Dasha Potapova first stepped on the campus of Georgia Tech less than a year ago, she said that her most memorable athletic accomplishment was winning the 2003 Big XII conference as a member of the Baylor women’s tennis team from the fall of 2001 until last spring. This weekend, she will have the opportunity to do the same for the Yellow Jackets.
A native of Moscow, Potapova enters the final weekend of the regular season as one of four Jackets with at least 10 wins this spring, playing primarily in the Nos. 2 and 3 singles slots, and has an overall record of 21-9 this year. She has recorded at least 20 wins every season as a collegian, including a season-best 25 during her sophomore year at Baylor, but says that she’s just now learning how talented a player she actually is.
“I always considered myself an average tennis player,” said Potapova, “but when I came to Tech, Coach Shelton treated me like I was something big and special. At first I thought that he was just saying it to attract players, but after going through the entire [year], I see that he hasn’t changed his mind. He still thinks that I’m a good player and that has given me a lot of confidence.”
This newfound confidence has translated into her game, where this past weekend, she recorded a pair of three-set tiebreaker victories to help the Yellow Jackets remain undefeated in conference play. On Saturday, Potapova split the first two sets with No. 34 Florida State’s Lindsay Deason, 6-4, and 4-6, and then downed the Seminole junior, 10-6, in a super tiebreaker to earn her 20th overall win this season.
On Sunday, after the Yellow Jackets came back from an 0-3 deficit to tie the match 3-3 against ninth-ranked Miami, the senior put on heroics again to give Georgia Tech its eighth conference win of the season. Potapova’s 7-3 win in a third-set tiebreaker delivered the Hurricanes their only loss of the season in league play, as Miami finished the ACC season at 9-1 heading into next week’s ACC Tournament.
“What a great `get’ Dasha has been for Georgia Tech,” said Shelton. “I remember my first conversation with her last spring. She told me that the best part of her game was her mental toughness and her ability to compete. Well I can certainly attest to both of those attributes. When we’ve needed her to get it done for us, she has certainly answered the call.”
While she credits head coach Bryan Shelton with giving her confidence, Potapova says that it’s the combination of both Shelton and his assistant coach, Nannie de Villiers, that have helped her to grow as a person.
“I am learning so much about myself,” said Potapova. “The [coaches] constantly say positive things about us, saying `this is what is going to help you in the future, whether you are dedicated or not,’ and it makes me look ahead and see that I will be happy when I start my career after tennis.”
A management major that is scheduled to receive her Georgia Tech degree this December, Potapova will be playing in her final regular-season home matches this weekend when Georgia Tech hosts Duke Saturday at 12 noon and the North Carolina Tar Heels Sunday at 11 a.m., but hopes to be around long enough to bring home a championship.
“I remember the first time that I spoke to Coach (Shelton), and he asked me what my goals were for this team,” said Potapova. “I told him that, while I wanted to finish the season on a good note and wanted to help my team as much as I can, the goal of every team is to win Nationals.”
“My only regret is that we didn’t have her all four years,” said Shelton. “I am certainly happy to see her having such a positive experience to finish her stellar college career.
Georgia Tech enters the weekend with a 15-2 overall record, with its only losses coming back-to-back against then-No. 18 Harvard and No. 6 Vanderbilt in late February, and is currently riding a 10-match win streak heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
The Yellow Jackets have recorded more than 15 wins just once in the last 16 years and only twice in program history, and Potapova will play a big role in breaking that mark. But if it comes down to her for match point again, she will be ready.
“Even though I was nervous [against Miami], and there was pressure and everything going on,” said Potapova, “I thought there was no way I was letting myself lose. My teammates were standing there, expecting me to win, and it was just so exciting. I couldn’t sleep a wink that night after the match, and I have never experienced anything like that in my life.
“Dasha isn’t the biggest or the strongest tennis player that I’ve coached,” said Shelton, “but what a huge heart she has. Her determination and toughness set her apart. When the match is on the line, I want her on the court because I know she wants the ball and knows what to do with it. She is teaching our young players how to compete under pressure.”
She was recently reminded of her comment that winning that Big XII Championship was her most memorable athletic achievement, but she says that this one was totally different.
“We didn’t have close matches that year, and we certainly didn’t win every single match,” Potapova said. “At the end, we were just the champions. This year, though, it’s so different. All of the matches of close…it’s just like the movies.”
“Dasha Potapova is living the American Dream and loving every minute of it,” added Shelton.
Here’s hoping for many more “starring” achievements on the court by the little senior before it’s all said and done.
The Georgia Tech women’s tennis team will honor its lone senior Dasha Potapova prior to the match against UNC Sunday at 11 a.m.