Sept. 15, 2009
ATLANTA – Head Coach Bryan Shelton is about to embark on his 11th season at the helm of the Georgia Tech women’s tennis program. Shelton has led his teams to 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, two ITA National Indoor championships and the 2007 NCAA Championship title.
Coach Shelton sat down with RamblinWreck.com to discuss the upcoming fall season.
The fall season gets underway this weekend. What do you expect to see in the first competition of the year?
“It is a great tournament. It is something we started a few years back. It has developed into a great way for our team to get started in the fall season. It will give us a good idea of how far along we are and what we still have to work on as we go through the fall. There are three great teams coming in. Starting with Georgia, one of the top school’s in the country. Between them, Miami and Princeton, we are going to have some great matches all weekend long. It will be great for the fans to come out and watch. They are going to see some of the best college tennis players out there. Irina Falconi, Amanda McDowell to go along with some other highly-ranked players like Chelsey Gullickson of Georgia and Laura Vallverdu of Miami. They are going to see some of the very best that college tennis has to offer. It is going to be exciting for the fans. For us, it is going to be a barometer to see where we are at this time and what we have to work on.”
The Yellow Jackets are not only hosting this weekend’s tournament. Tech will host the ITA South Region Championships in October. How does this benefit the program?
“The regional tournament is one of the biggest tournaments we have in the Southeast in the fall. To have the opportunity to host it says a lot about Georgia Tech and the respect we have throughout the region. I think it is a great opportunity for our girls to be showcased on their home courts and for our fans to get behind them. The winner of this regional event gets into the ITA National Indoor Championships, held at the University of Virginia. It is a great opportunity for our players to play at home, get comfortable there and for us not to hit the road and travel. It is great for Georgia Tech athletics, great for women’s tennis here. It is great to bring great tennis to the city of Atlanta.”
What are the team goals this fall?
“Our overall goal is to continue to bring out our best everyday. That is on the court, in the gym, in the classroom and certainly during the competition. If we do that and we are focused, we know we are going to get better. We are a young team but we have a couple great leaders. We feel that we will continue to improve throughout the fall and get better as we go along. We certainly want to win championships but the way we accomplish that is getting better everyday and improving faster than the competition. We want to improve so by the time we get to the spring, we are not making the same mistakes we made in the fall.”
In as few words as possible, when someone comes out to watch the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team play, what will they see?
“A fit, discipline group.”
Not many college athletes have had the success that Amanda McDowell has had in her career. What do you expect from your lone senior this season?
“I think she is going make a statement that she is back this year. She is ready to go and make that next big leap. I thought that she really elevated her game during her first two years at Tech. Last year was one of those years that you kind of run into some obstacles and stumble a little bit. I know what that feels like, having been a player. This is kind of a bounce back year. Not only to bounce back, but to move beyond where she has gone before. I expect her to do that. She is motivated, eager, excited and physically feeling stronger again. I expect this to be a year that she is going to do some great things. She is certainly capable. With the hard work she is going to put in this year, she is going to accomplish some great things.”
Sasha Krupina made a nice jump between her freshman and sophomore years. Where do you see her going as she enters her third season on the Flats?
“Sasha did a good job this summer, committing to work hard and improving her game. I feel that throughout the summer she rediscovered the love for the game of tennis. I can see it everyday when she shows up to do her work. That attitude and work ethic that she has developed is going to serve her well this year. She has the potential to have one of the biggest serves in college tennis. Not just big but consistent at the same time. She can hurt people in a variety of ways. Her consistency level has improved. Throughout this year, as she develops her confidence, she is going to be somebody that will do a lot of great things for us both in singles and doubles.”
After a great summer season, how did Irina Falconi’s confidence level change? What did a year of college tennis under her belt do to help her improve?
“Irina is a special person and player. She is totally different than she was a year ago. Her level of maturity has increased immeasurably. She is more confident in her ability. She understands what she does well on the court. She worked her tail off this summer to get fitter. That has given her a lot of confidence. She is determined to help lead this team over the hump. She wants to take this team to places we have been before and where we want to get back too. Her leadership is going to be very important for us this year. She is playing great tennis. I know her overall goal is more related to the teams’ success than her own success. That is a special quality in a player. I expect a lot of good things from her this year. She comes out every day with a smile on her face and ready to do the work. That is what you want.”
Hillary Davis stayed on campus this summer. What did she do on the court to improve?
“I think mentally and emotionally, Hillary is a steadier person, which will help her on the tennis court. She is enjoying the game more and she has developed more balance overall. Her goal this year is to attend as many Georgia Tech sporting events as she can. I think that is great for a student that has a 4.0 GPA. She has learned how to relax and enjoy all the great things that Georgia Tech has to offer. She certainly has all the shots. She can slice, hit heavy, drive the ball and has amazing hands. She can volley as well as anyone that we have had at Georgia Tech. She has a lot of talent, a lot of game. As she continues to relax on the court, I think we will see her play some incredible tennis for us this year.”
Last year, at times Viet Ha Ngo looked like she was going to be outstanding and at time she struggled. What kind of jump do you think she will take in her second year at Tech?
“Similar to Hillary, Viet Ha is learning how to relax on the court. I felt at times she was about to take off and fly but she ended up getting in her own way a bit, sometimes trying too hard. As she continues to find the balance in things and develop the confidence in herself, I think she will have success. She is certainly one of the hardest workers we have ever had at Georgia Tech. She puts in the time and effort to be the very best she can be. She is a very athletic girl at the same time so when you put everything together you get a combination. The question for her is if she can get out of her own way this year to have success out there instead of forcing it to happen. If she is able to do that, I expect her to do great things for her.”
Lynn Blau spent the summer back home in Luxembourg playing tennis after a season fighting through injuries. What is her impact going to be as a sophomore?
“Lynn can hurt you in multiple ways. She is extremely quick on the court and moves very well. She is a great ball-striker at the same time. She played so many tournaments this summer and it really helped her gain some maturity on the court and helped her learn the game more. She learned how to contain her emotions out there. Last year, she was a typical freshman who panicked a lot in different situations. I now see a more calm and confident person with a year under her belt and a great summer with a lot of match play. We really need her to step up for us in a big way. With her ability to defend the court and strike the ball, we are going to rely on her to help us in singles and doubles.”
Elizabeth Kilborn comes to the program as a highly-touted recruit. What does she bring to the team?
“I can see already that Elizabeth is a stable force for us. Only a few weeks in, her attitude is rock solid. Her work ethic is there. She understands the big picture that we are working to get better. Every single day she is all in. It is great to see someone that is so mature at such a young age. She is a natural-born leader. That is going to develop over the next few years. She is somebody that everybody respects. She is a great ball-striker, does things well and catches on quickly to any changes we have made to her game. She really follows instruction well. I just couldn’t be more excited about a freshman that we have than Elizabeth. I expect her to make a huge impact on the court.”
The Georgia Tech women’s tennis has historically done well in the classroom. What makes your current team excel like it does?
“I think that we can have our best year academically ever and that is saying a lot with the type of team GPA’s that we have produced over my 10 years at Tech. A lot of the players in the classroom have the perfectionist mentality. I would like to see them relax more at times but one thing that I feel secure with is that they are going to give it their best effort. If you do that at Georgia Tech consistently, then you will be successful both in the classroom and on the court. I feel very confident in how this team will do academically this year and expect us to break some records there.”