Sept. 17, 2010
By Jon Cooper
No one could accuse Elizabeth Kilborn of failing to carrying her weight during the 2009-10 Georgia Tech women’s tennis team.
In fact, she did plenty of lifting.
“Freshmen carry the balls out to practice every day, so I did that,” said the Marietta native, who was the lone freshman on last year’s squad. “When we travel, we have a bag with all the balls and our strings and grips and all that stuff. Freshmen have to carry that.”
Free of the burden of carrying the team’s supply bag, Kilborn enters her sophomore season ready to carry something much more important — the responsibility of playing at No. 1 for the Yellow Jackets.
Head Coach Bryan Shelton has no doubt that she can shoulder the burden.
“Elizabeth possesses a lot of confidence. We say that she’s ‘Our quiet strength,'” said Shelton. “She’s more mature than most players that come in as freshmen and sophomores. This year she’s already stepping up as a leader on this team. With quite a young team and a lot of new players coming in, we expect her to have a leadership role.
“She finished the year so strong last year,” he continued. “She’s going to take that momentum, pick up where she left off and keep moving forward.”
That finish saw Kilborn win her final six matches — she was 23-8 overall, 19-7 in dual singles matches — including a perfect 4-0 in the ACC Tournament, when seventh-seeded Georgia Tech took the ACC crown, and 1-0 in her first NCAA Tournament match. Her success was less a matter of overcoming freshman jitters than a lack of confidence, based more on the experience of her opponents than her own inexperience.
“Last year, playing girls, playing seniors and I was a freshman, it shouldn’t have gotten into my head but it definitely did,” she said. “I played some girls earlier in the season that were older than me and then I was able to play them again in the ACCs and turn it around. Coach always tells us, ‘You’re playing game style. You’re not playing a player. Don’t think about what their name is or where they’re from or how old they are. Just think about the style that you’re playing.’ I definitely learned from that.”
She applied what she learned and turned the tables in rematches against Miami’s Gabriela Mejia, Clemson’s Laurianne Henry, and North Carolina’s Sophie Grabinski, each of whom beat Kilborn during the regular season, but fell in consecutive days during the ACC Tournament.
That ability to grasp concepts and immediately apply them has Shelton thinking big about Kilborn’s future.
“She just gets it,” he said. “She understands what we’re trying to do with her game, she’s fully on board and she just keeps improving every single day. We have had a tradition of a lot of athletes coming into the program and then by their second year they really leap forward. I expect that to happen for her this year.”
Think Irina Falconi, last year’s NCAA Player of the Year, and Amanda McDowell, who as a sophomore won the NCAA Singles championship. Kilborn played with both of them last season, and believes that her journey can parallel theirs.
“Their sophomore years they came out with a lot more confidence than they did their freshman years,” she said. “I feel like they just had, especially Irina last year, had an air of confidence. ‘I can beat anybody if I put my mind to it. I can do anything on the court that I want to.’ Having a positive expectation for everything that you’re doing on the court makes a big difference.”
Getting to work with Shelton over the summer also made a difference.
“I think the summer after your freshman year is obviously a big building time,” she said. “This summer, especially for me, I was around, so I was with [Coach Shelton] five days out of the week practicing on the court and learning so much every day. He has so much to offer. Already having that base from last year and being able to build upon it your sophomore year, I think is a really big difference.”
Kilborn hopes to be a difference-maker all season long and put emphasis on improving in doubles competition, where she was 14-13 overall last season.
“Definitely, I want to do better in doubles this year,” she said. “That was a struggle for us. If you lose a doubles point it makes it a lot tougher to come out and win four out of six singles. So that’s going to be a big focus for us this year.”
The Jackets took their first step Friday in the opening day of competition at the Georgia Tech Invitational being held at the Bill Moore Tennis Center. The tournament, which includes Georgia, Oklahoma State and Yale, runs all weekend, with matches resuming today at 10 a.m., and Sunday, starting at 9 a.m.
Visit RamblinWreck.com for the weekend’s results, which will be posted at the end of doubles and singles competition.