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Ready to Perform on a Big Stage

March 22, 2012

by Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily –

Without knowing how many women’s college basketball players have Wikipedia pages about them, it would be odd not to be impressed by the fact that Brittney Griner does.

The Baylor center whom Georgia Tech will look up to Saturday in the Yellow Jackets’ first Sweet 16 appearance is utterly impossible to miss. She dunked in the Bears’ last NCAA game, she’s 6-feet-8, she wears a size 17 or 18 (men’s) shoe, and she has a lot more going for her on the court than her height.

Girl’s got skills.

The Jackets are not going to back down, however, and you can be certain that senior center Sasha Goodlett – who is 6-5 herself – is going to work as hard as she’s worked in any game in her life to slow Baylor’s big girl.

That’s enough for now on the big girl who, along with Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims and their teammates, has helped make the Bears the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s a good thing that the Jackets are playing Baylor. Tech is getting more attention, or will in coming days, than ever before.

Women’s college basketball does not show up on the same radar screens as the men do, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a really big deal in certain places. Think of Storrs, Conn., Knoxville, Tenn., and Palo Alto, Calif., are some of the places where the ladies command nearly as much attention – and in some seasons more – than the men.

Could Atlanta be that way with the Jackets?

I don’t know. But if Tech pulls off the upset Saturday in Des Moines, we’ll get a better idea.

The Jackets (26-8) have won more games than any Tech women’s team, advanced further than ever, won more ACC regular-season games (12) than ever, finished higher in the league than ever (tied for third), and made the ACC championship game for just the second time. Head coach MaChelle Joseph’s team gave Maryland a run there, too.

These are high times, which is why after the Jackets beat Georgetown Tuesday in the second round, Joseph said things like, “Well first of all I’m just thrilled to death for my players and for the people at Georgia Tech. It’s a long time, way overdue, for Georgia Tech being in the Sweet 16 and for us to make history with this group of people.

“I’m very blessed to be surrounded by players that are committed to excellence, both on the floor, and off the floor. I have five seniors, all five of them are going to graduate this spring. All five of them have taken this program where it’s never been before. I’m just really, really happy for them. They deserve this. They’ve worked extremely hard and one of the things we talked about in the locker room before the game is that we’ve put a lot in our bank.

“We had a lot stored up and we paid the price to be successful and that’s why today we won out there. We were able to take away from that bank account, we had a lot stored up and we had a lot to give.”

Tech freshman guard Sydney Wallace was the star of the first two rounds, scoring a combined 51 points – which is exactly what she was recruited to do. Ty Marshall has been the Jackets’ leading scorer all season after coming to Tech from Maryland as a lightly-recruited slasher.

The Jackets are here, or rather will be in Des Moines, however, because they got bigger – if not quite as big as Griner – and because the senior class of Goodlett, point guard Metra Walthour, forward Chelsea Regins (6-2), guard Mo Bennett (5-10),  and center LaQuananisha Adams (6-4) has gone after it.

Adams doesn’t play a lot, but her presence in practice is just as important.

As a group, this recruiting class was ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation when Joseph landed them.

“To have a point, a wing and a post, and to have some size for the first time because we were six foot-and-under team for our first two NCAA tournaments … when we got this class, when we got Sasha, Nisha (Adams) and Chelsea, we got a lot of size inside,” Joseph said. “I knew we had an opportunity to be special.”

All of this would matter less if the Jackets hadn’t been so ardent in their work once they arrived and for four years or so ever since.

“It just feels great for the simple fact that coming in, ever since we came in, we wanted to do something special, we wanted to leave our mark on this program,” Goodlett said. ” We came in thinking we have to make it to the Sweet 16, we have to take this program somewhere it’s never been. But we’re not going to sit here and be just happy for it.”

No, the Jackets are going to get after it again on Saturday.

“Well, we know we’ve never been to the Sweet 16 before so we wanted to celebrate but this is not as far as we want to go,” Walthour said. “We’re here to play, we’re confident and we know we’re not done yet.”

Here’s hoping Walthour’s right.

A win over No. 1 Baylor (36-0) would surely fetch delirious joy beyond the Tech players, coaches, their families and the smallish-but-iron-clad fan group the Jackets presently have.

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