Jan. 20, 2010
ATLANTA – Head Coach Bryan Shelton has embarked 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 spring season.
You have once again challenged your team with eight teams ranked in the nation’s top 20. How do you prepare for such a daunting schedule?
“Well, I think that our players understand the schedule and understand what they are going to face when they come to school here at Georgia Tech. Our schedule hasn’t changed too much from year to year over the last eight or nine years. We promise the players that come here that you will get an opportunity to play against the best competition in the country whether it is in conference or out of conference. We continue to go at it the same way and really prepare ourselves for later in the season when we are at the ACC championships and the NCAA tournament and feel like we are prepared to play the best teams because we played them throughout the year.”
Now in your 11th season, how has your coaching style changed over the years since taking the head job at Georgia Tech?
“One of the big things I have changed over the eleven years that I have been coaching is the ability to be able to joke with the players. Also, just the ability to understand that everybody is different and we have different personalities amongst the team and sometimes you just can’t lump everybody together and only talk to the team in a broad sense. But, you have to work with the players as individuals, as individual student athletes, and really look at their strengths and their weaknesses and try to build on their strengths. Also, learning how to communicate and talk to each player as an individual and helping them to grow and mature and develop. This is not only on the court but off the court as well. To me, my success as a coach will be more defined with what the players do after they leave college and not just what they do while they are here. Keeping that big picture in mind, which I have been able to do better over the last four or five years, and understand that it is more than just winning matches and it is more than winning championships, but it is helping these players develop as people.”
What are the team goals this spring?
“We met with each of the girls individually at the end of the fall and addressed what their individual goals were as well as what the team goals would be for this coming year. Our team wants to continue a winning tradition. We want to feel we are ready and prepared to play every single match. Our goals are to continue to get better throughout the season so that we can peak towards the end of the year and along the way hopefully we will be able to say we are ACC champions again and NCAA champions. Those are two of the goals that are at the top of our list as far as outcome goals. But how we achieve those outcome goals do not change. We have to put in good work every single day, team chemistry has to be great, the players have to understand their roles and how it all comes together for us will determine how successful we are. We have the right pieces in place and that’s exciting.”
What has been the biggest improvement for this team since they stepped on campus in August?
“I think their understanding of the game is one of the things that they have improved upon the most. Understanding how to apply pressure on the court, understanding how their strengths can be utilized in a match play situation. I think that each player on our team has a real solid identity as to who they are as a tennis player and where they are going to find success when they compete. I think that having that understanding allows you to become more confident to rely on your instincts a little more and to not over analysis situations. This is something that gives you piece of mind and I feel like our players are very well equipped now to know how to play the game and how to play it at the highest level. More than anything else, our players are equipped with how to play against different styles of play and what percentage tennis is all about and how they can be effective day in and day out.”
When someone comes out to watch the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team play, what will they see?
“The fans that come to our matches will see energy, enthusiasm, positive attitudes out on the court, players that are respectful and who compete hard but play fair. They can also expect to see a team that is on a mission to go out there and improve and be successful. I think they will see an attacking style of play with consistency. A fan that lives in the city of Atlanta will see a team that can apply consistent pressure on an opponent and they’ll see an exciting brand of tennis. This is the best place to be if you want to see high class tennis.”
Though injuries have set her back, Amanda McDowell will lead the team this spring. What kind of leadership to you expect from your lone senior?
“Amanda has been through everything here. She’s obviously been to the very top in collegiate tennis. She has won multiple team national titles, as an individual she has won national titles and so she’s seen the very best and has been a part of it and has been extremely successful. But she’s also experienced some lows; her lows have been due primarily to her injuries that have kind of plagued her over the last year.
“So for her senior season I think she will be able to lead because she’s already experienced everything. She is going to be a great leader because it’s one thing to put on a smile and a brave face when things are going well but it’s another thing to be able to bounce back. To me, real character is when someone deals with adversity; when they get knocked down and get back up. And for Amanda McDowell and her goals for this season and my goals as well are for her to be the bounce back player of the year. I think that’s who the real champions are; those who face their adversity, who are knocked down and get back up stronger than they were before.”
“Amanda and Irina are able to push one another. I think when you are the elite you know you need to be pushed. When you go to practice every single day you need to feel like you are being challenged so that you continue to grow and develop. And being able to go to practice as the No. 1 player in the country you need to know that you’re still going to be pushed out there on the court. I think it’s very important that you continue to develop. The thing I like most about both of those people is that they are both humble; they both understand that they still have a lot to learn. They are very coachable on the court and they are very team oriented; they’re always looking at the team and how they can help the team. I think the same goes for one another: they push each other and encourage one another and they work well together and have had some successes in the past as doubles partners, and whether they’re playing together or with someone else they’re just going to continue to contribute to the success of our program.”
After a great rookie campaign, sophomore Irina Falconi has continued to get better. She had one of the best falls in the nation and earned the No. 1 singles ranking for it. Where does she go from here?
“She dominated this fall, and for her, it’s just about continuing to get better each day. She has set goals for herself that depend on her continuing to work hard every single day and really paying attention to the details of how you get better as a player. I know that she wants to win an NCAA title as well as win an NCAA team title this year so that’s something I know she’ll be shooting for. There is great competition out there, so she’s definitely going to be pushed when we get to the ACC portion of our season. But nationally there’s great competition so she’s going to have the opportunity to play some of the best players in the country all season long. Playing the best will help make her a sharper player as she moves forward from here.”
Junior Sasha Krupina had a nice fall season. Where does she fit into the mix for the spring?
“Sasha has made some big strides in her game over the last six months I probably seen the most growth in her physical game. So how far can Sasha go this season? I think she’s the one that will determine that. It’s going to come from her work ethic this spring and her consistency and being able to be poised not only in practice but in the matches. I expect great things and I truly believe that our team will go in the direction that Sasha goes this spring. If Sasha is an impact player for us this spring, it will make a huge difference for us this season.”
Your lone freshman Elizabeth Kilborn showed a lot of promise during the fall. What kind of impact do you expect her to make this spring after getting some collegiate experience in the fall?
“I have big expectations for her. Elizabeth is just a great person. I think that she’s a natural-born leader who will develop over the next few years and will ultimately be the leader of this program. But in the meantime, I expect her to continue with her quiet strength as she plays her first season at Georgia Tech. I think she’s going to find a lot of success both on the singles court and on the doubles court. I think that her ability to soak in information and to apply it on the court is unparalleled. The sky is the limit for her. Elizabeth with continue to grow because she is a special kid. She brings a lot to us both on and off the court.”
The Georgia Tech women’s tennis has historically done well in the classroom. What do you say to your team to stress the importance of doing well in school?
“Well first and foremost we are here to get an education. I was fortunate enough to receive a degree from Georgia Tech so I know how valuable that is and how hard it is to get. So when they first arrive on campus it’s one of the first talks that we have with the team. Also, during the recruiting process we tell each perspective student-athlete `if you come to school at Georgia Tech and you work hard, you have the opportunity to get a degree that is recognized around the world.’ Our goal is that they understand their priorities on the team. They understand that in order for them to be successful on the tennis court they have to be successful in the classroom and we put that as the top priority. We feel that we have the best of both worlds. We have the opportunity to give a great education here in the classroom as well as on the tennis court. There are a lot of universities that offer one or the other and this is a place where you can come and get both.”