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On The Verge of Something Big

Sept. 29, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

The non-stop grind is right around the corner, a five-month run during which one’s daily schedule is no longer controlled – at least not completely — by that person, when body parts will ache at least as often as not, when balancing one kind of work against another makes automatons of them all.

And yet, Metra Walthour cannot contain her excitement.

Georgia Tech’s point guard can wait for practice to begin Monday, but only because she must; NCAA rules disallow the Yellow Jackets from firing it up sooner.

“We pretty much go year-round anyway, sort of. I mean, we were here all summer,” said the one teammates and friends know as “Me-me”. “For me, I’m 100 percent excited, especially being that it’s my senior year. We have new faces, and we’re in a different gym. I’m excited to see how we’re going to do.”

The 2011-’12 season is, for sure, going to go differently in at least one way. The Jackets will play their home games in Philips Arena while Alexander Memorial Coliseum is re-made into McCamish Pavilion.

Walthour will make note of that, if you ask about it, but it doesn’t seem high on a list of concerns.

The micro-sized firebrand from tiny Liberty County High in Hinesville, Ga., is so amped up about the next phase in the process – head coach MaChelle Joseph’s on-going system of program construction that hardly ever stops running – that trips to Gwinnett County for “home” games seem an afterthought.

Conjecture about how this version of the Jackets will blend is more compelling.

Will Tech expand its school record of 20-or-more win seasons and consecutive NCAA tournaments to six each? Can the Jackets replace one of the best players in the program’s history?

Alex Montgomery was the No. 10 selection in the WNBA draft. She’s not the only critical senior who has moved on; Deja Foster is gone as well.

Walthour deigns to dream about what her returning teammates will bring, and what newcomers Sydney Wallace, Sarah Hartwell and Tjasa Gortnar will add.

“Having five seniors, we have to lead the way for the rest of the team. We’re looking at it as an opportunity to do something big,” she said. “I think we’re going to be more up-tempo. We have another quick guard . . . of course we’re going to play the same system, but our offense is going to be more spread out.

“You never know who’s going to do what on each night. That will throw our opponents off a little. And our defense will be right there again, of course.”

For her part, Me-me probably has to play more like her nickname. She’s been quite the We-we point guard, which is generally fine. Her scoring average has gone up annually from 1.6 points per game to 3.9 to 8.9.

That’s none too shabby, and given that the 5-foot-6 point last season was second last season in 3-pointers taken (142) and made (51) to Montgomery, it’s not like she’s trigger shy.

Again, though, Montgomery and her 13.9 points per game are gone. Since she and Walthour combined for 125 of the 152 treys made by the Jackets last season (82.2 percent), it doesn’t seem likely that the point guard’s role this season will require her to shoot less.

Second-leading scorer Ty Marshall (13.6 ppg) is back, but the sophomore is a slasher much more than a shooter.

That may mean that at times Walthour will be expected to play more me-me ball. So, since last season ended, she said, “I’ve worked more and more on my shot, and being a playmaker, being able to break down a defense and know what’s coming.”

Perhaps that catches your eye: “know what’s coming.”

Turns out that even though she led Tech in assists (3.8 per game) and steals (2.3) while leading the Jackets in minutes played (1,111) as the only player to start every game, Walthour is convinced that she can be considerably better.

In her mind that evolution goes beyond hoisting thousands of shots and practicing her cross-over dribble and drive.

Perhaps few film critics surpassed the time Walthour spent in a dark room this past summer, studying tape, looking for her own tendencies, her shortcomings, edges to be gained on defenders and even defensive schemes.

“All summer I watched games, wins and losses,” she said, “and that’s part of how I’ve tried to get better.”

If you’ve ever been an athlete, or had much of your schedule affected by one or a group of them (like, say, as a sportswriter, a coach, a manager, or, yes, even a parent), you know you lose a piece of your life when the season rolls around.

Depending on the degree of your fortune in these situations, whether you’re in one of these supporting roles or that of an athlete, your life can become richer in the process.

Maybe it’s not a matter of fortune, but one of perspective – how you view what’s about to happen. If the game affects you as it would a fan, then you’re truly on the upside of the equation and you look completely forward to the process.

Me-me Walthour is a player and a fan. She doesn’t know what’s coming, but she’s sure eager to find out.

“A lot of the older kids have stepped up a lot, especially [fellow senior] Chelsea [Regins],” Walthour said. “She’s changed a lot about herself on and off the court. She brings toughness, and it’s more consistent. The seniors, we know we have to step up. We’ve brought a good attitude, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.”

Ever been blessed enough to approach oncoming work with the zeal of Walthour? It’s a solid feeling. If you have any great tales to this effect, drop a line to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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