May 14, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Bryan Shelton knows what it takes to succeed in the NCAA Tournament.
He was at the helm when Georgia Tech won the 2007 NCAA Tournament and then, the following season, when Amanda McDowell gave new meaning to the phrase “Sophomore Jinx,” by winning the NCAA Singles crown.
Shelton, who reached the quarterfinals at the 1988 NCAA Tournament before losing to Robbie Weiss, who would go on to win the singles championship, spoke to Sting Daily on Thursday, prior to the Yellow Jackets’ first-round NCAA Tournament match against Jacksonville State. He spoke about the team’s preparation, their mental state having completed exams and the importance of playing at the Moore Center.
He proved quite prophetic about what it would take to beat the Gamecocks.
The Jackets dispatched JSU, 4-0, dropping a total of 16 games — four in doubles (Sasha Krupina/Viet Ha Ngo (8-2) and Lynn Blau/Elizabeth Kilborn (8-2), and 12 in singles (three each by, in order of finish, Blau (6-2, 6-1), Krupina (6-0, 6-3), and Jillian O’Neill (6-3, 6-0).
Tech seeks to advance to the round of 16 when they face off against Arizona State tomorrow afternoon, beginning at 1:00 p.m.
ASU squandered a 3-1 lead, before beating Mississippi, 4-3. Freshman Jacqueline Cako, the No. 12 player in the nation, won the deciding match. The Sun Devils’ win deprived Tech of an opportunity to avenge last year’s second-round loss to Ole Miss.
STING DAILY: What’s the mindset of the team heading into the NCAA Tournament?
Bryan Shelton: When you’re hosting, that’s a sign that you’ve had a pretty good season. When we started out at the beginning of the fall, one of our primary goals was to be in this position where we could host the first two rounds of the tournament, again, as we have the last several years. To make it this far and to be able to be in this position, I think the girls on this team are to be commended for what they’ve accomplished throughout this season, with a very, very difficult schedule.
SD: What do you know about Jacksonville State?
SHELTON: I know that they won [the Ohio Valley Conference] tournament. Those are the things that you look at. You look at how did they finish out their season? Do they have some momentum built up? Where are they strong in their lineup? I haven’t seen them play but they have a talented group. They obviously won their last tournament, so they’re riding high with confidence. For a team like Jacksonville State, that hasn’t had this opportunity too many times, they’re going to come in firing away. So I think that’s what we’re trying to prepare for. Knowing that they’re going to bring a lot of energy because they want to make the most of this opportunity as well. So we’ve got to continue to prepare and I think our team will be very ready to play.
SD: Who is playing good tennis for the Jackets right now? What should fans watch for?
SHELTON: I think Jillian [O’Neill] has gotten better as the season has gone along. Fortunately for us, we’re finished with final exams and so, that release of stress is going to be great for our team. I’m looking for everyone to play at a very high level. A key component for us this season is if we’ve done well in doubles we’ve done well in the matches. Look at our 1, 2 and 3 doubles to really supply us with some energy and hopefully get us on top in each of those matches that we play this weekend, hopefully.
SD: You went through the rigors of Georgia Tech exams and know what it takes to play and succeed in the NCAAs. What do you do to help the players get through it and balance the two?
SHELTON: It’s tough. Especially when you’ve got a group of players that are great students and will want to do their very best in the classroom and that’s what we’ve got. Georgia Tech is a very difficult place. It’s a great place to try and get a degree and our players, almost every player is on the Dean’s List. There are a couple of girls that had a perfect GPA this semester, again. That’s not easy to do at this place. What I told the girls when they’re going through the exams, still get your sleep, still get your rest. We’re still going to practice, we’re still going to do those things. Ten, 15, 20 years from now, you’re not going to remember if you made a B or if you made an A in that class but you’re going to remember the NCAA Tournament (laughs).
We actually try to balance it out, knowing, yes, exams and the school come first but the NCAA Tournament, for some, is a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true. Let’s make sure that we take full advantage of that. So we keep that in their minds. We’ve got to cut down on the number of hours that we practice but we still practice to stay sharp and then we get about a week and a half, almost two weeks practice without worrying about it because we’re finished with exams. I think that’s really helping us a lot. Where other teams are still either in the midst of taking exams or have exams coming up soon, so they’re not as free and loose as I think we will be.
SD: Do you tell Sasha Krupina anything special in preparation for her final NCAA Tournament? Do you say anything special to the rest of the young team that is coming back?
SHELTON: I think the main thing for Sasha is enjoy it. Make it count and enjoy it. Making it count is not so much on the day but the days leading up. It’s preparing. A lot of times, the fans see happens match day. Match day occurs because of what happened before that. For us to play our very best we have to have a good practices and that’s going to allow us to go out there and have fun and not have to worry so much but just let it out. The habits are already formed. I think for our team, it is a young team. We try to look as each day as an opportunity to get better and not just look at the matches or just look at the tournament as a whole, but take each day and try to get better each day. That, the results will be there and you will be able to enjoy them instead of grinding away mentally during the match. The habits should be formed by then so you can just go out there and play and let it happen.
SD: How big an advantage is it to play at the Bill Moore Tennis Center?
SHELTON: It’s huge. It’s huge to have the comfort level with the courts, to be able to play in front of our fans that supply energy. That’s a huge advantage not to have to travel and we can sit here and prepare and get our schedules set. Just like any other sport, it’s huge to be able to play in front of your home crowd and on courts that you’re very familiar with and have created some good memories. Last year’s team didn’t advance past the second round. So we’re going to use that to our advantage as well. We know how it felt when we didn’t beat Ole MIss last year in the second round. It’s not a feeling we want to repeat this year.