Setting the Tone

Sept. 15, 2011

Recognition in preseason polls is nice.

Validating that recognition is even nicer.

That’s the mission of the Georgia Tech Women’s Tennis Team, when it takes the court this weekend to kick off their Fall season at the Windward Tennis Club in Alpharetta to open the Georgia Tech Invitational. The University of Georgia, Oklahoma State and Yale round out the field in the event.

The Yellow Jackets, who finished 13th overall last season, come into the 2011 season with a veteran squad that features five upperclassmen (four seniors and a junior), and have five players ranked in the initial Campbell/ITA Division I Women’s Tennis preseason rankings.

Seniors Jillian O’Neill, who is ranked No. 21, and Viet Ha Ngo, who is 44th both cracked the top 50. They are joined by senior Caroline Lilley (#69), freshman Alex Anghelescu (#81) and senior Lynn Blau (#124).

Head Coach Bryan Shelton likes his team but isn’t buying into the hype yet. He’d prefer to wait and see how things play out on the court.

“We’re going to be tested,” said Shelton, who heads into his 13th season as the team’s head coach. “We had the same teams in our tournament last year and we invited them back because they competed hard, they did things the right way with the right attitude and we got some quality matches in. That’s what we expect to find again this year.” Leading the Jackets is O’Neill, who was one of three Jackets to go 3-0 in last year’s Invitational (Ngo and sophomore Muriel Wacker also were undefeated) closed last season strong playing at No. 1. She is looking to build on her experience.

“I learned a lot from last year,” said O’Neill, who had a 16-12 record and a final No. 30 overall ranking. “I learned to keep my composure and stay calm. Basically what I learned last year I can apply to this year. I need to be patient and work with the process and every day I’ll get better.”

O’Neill had off-season foot surgery to remove a bone in her foot and sat out seven weeks. While it was tough being off the court for that long, she’s worked herself into good shape and believes she and the team have something to prove in looking to finish higher than last season’s No. 13 finish.

“We’ve definitely been focusing on our fitness. We want to be in the best shape that we can be and I think that’s going to be a key in how we do,” she said. “Also, we’ve been focusing on the little details and trying get our team to where we can be because we have so much potential. If we work hard and put in the time we can definitely do great things. We have the potential to do a lot this year.”

Ngo also finished strong last season, ending up at No. 65. She may move up to No. 2 after playing most of last year in the third spot.

Lilley, who played at No. 2, was 17-7 last season in her first season after transferring from Kentucky, while Blau was a solid 17-10 out of the fourth spot.

Tech also is looking for big things from sophomore Anghelescu, who will be going against her old school, UGA for the first time since transferring to Tech. She was 21-11 as a freshman.

On the doubles side, O’Neill and LIlley begin the season ranked as the nation’s sixth-ranked team. They were 8-1 as Tech’s top doubles team and finished ranked 15th overall.

Junior Elizabeth Kilborn, sophomore Muriel Wacker and highly touted freshman Jasmine Minor are all talented players who will push for starting spots.

“A great thing is the depth on our team,” said O’Neill. “All around, our eight players are all very good. We’re always going to have a deep team.”

Shelton expects a good showing from his team, but also recognizes it’s the first match and sees the bigger picture.

“This weekend we’ll look to see what we’re doing well out there on the court and what areas we need to improve upon,” he said. “That’s the main focus, always getting better. If we take every opportunity to get better and grow, then we’ll get all the things we want out of the weekend. We’ll evaluate the matches afterward and put the knowledge we gain from this coming weekend to work in practice every single day before we go on to our next event.” Singles matches begin today at noon, with doubles to follow at around 2:30. They’ll flip on Saturday, with doubles beginning at 2:00 p.m., and singles following around 3:30. The Invitational concludes on Sunday, with singles beginning at 9:00 a.m., and doubles following around 11:30.

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