April 14, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Elizabeth Kilborn wore a huge grin as she walked back toward the service line.
She had just missed a forehand smash down the line at love-15.
Maybe the smile was because she isn’t used to NOT burying a shot like that, or that she was up 6-2, 5-1 and her match — and Georgia Tech’s victory — were well in hand. Maybe both.
It’s difficult to tell with Kilborn, whose smile is never far away, be it during the Senior Day match with Virginia Tech, like Sunday afternoon at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex or a random day practicing with a coach or teammate from Georgia Tech.
“I love being on the court. I just have fun when I come out here and play and try to treat it as that,” said Kilborn, the squad’s captain and lone senior. “It takes a lot of pressure off if you just come out here and have fun and enjoy it. It’s a privilege to play here, it’s a privilege to be a part of this program.”
Following the 4-0 whitewash of Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech Head Coach Rodney Harmon said he considered it a privilege coaching Kilborn in his first year.
“She’s been the heartbeat of our team. She’s our captain. She’s just so thoughtful, so hard-working,” said Harmon. “Every day she has a smile on her face and she’s ready to work hard. I’m just sorry she’s leaving.”
Kilborn left the Ken Byers Tennis Complex with a smile, as she clinched both doubles (where she and teammate Muriel Wacker took home an 8-3 win), and singles, where she topped Hokies freshman Ilinca Stoica 6-2, 6-2.
“That was exciting,” said Kilborn. “I never would have thought that it was going to happen like that but it’s cool to go out that way.”
Kilborn hinted that she may have gotten a little help from freshman Kendal Woodard, who was wrapping up her match with Va. Tech’s Raluca Mita on neighboring Court 2. That match that would end up unfinished.
“Well, Kendal, she was like one game away, too, and she was serving for it,” she recalled, breaking into that smile. “She was kind of slapping balls around. I could kind of tell she was trying to slow down a little bit for me. She told me she was slowing down a little.”
There was no slowing Kilborn on Sunday, her day. Her mom, Terry, captured the final shots on video through her cell phone and her dad, David, stood and cheered the winner. After shaking hands with Stoica, and the Virginia Tech team, Kilborn walked toward that same baseline, wearing that same smile.
This time, she kept walking to acknowledge the fans on Court One who were giving her a standing ovation. Included in the group were new Athletic Director Mike Bobinski, former teammates Christina Ngo and Jillian O’Neill, and current men’s tennis player Juan Spir, who had his Senior Day the previous Sunday (Men’s Basketball Coach Brian Gregory and his family also were in attendance for the doubles portion of the match). The group crammed into the bleachers in front of Court One to watch Kilborn for the last time on home turf.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “I’m glad we got out with a ‘W’ today but I’m definitely going to miss this place and it’s hard walking off this court knowing it’s the last time I’m going to play here.”
She greeted the group, which also included her brother and sister and both grandmothers as well as family and friends and a pair of former coaches with that smile. It’s the same one Terry recalls having seen before Liz ever played for Tech at the Bill Moore Tennis Center back in 2009.
“I think back when she committed to Bryan [Shelton] verbally over the phone, I was there in the room,” she recalled. “You could not take the smile off her face. It was an uncontrollable smile. She was so confident with her decision and had complete clarity on this was where she needed to be and this has the right level of challenge for her. I think she knew she was going to surround herself with so many mentors in the classroom and as a player and also as a person. She just knew that this was the right fit for her.”
Kilborn recalled that for a while it seemed like that was anything but the case.
“I remember when I was getting recruited I never thought I was good enough to come here,” she said. “I came in as a freshman, I was pinching myself that I was a part of it. I was in awe of the place. I was playing Line Six from the start. It just shows how much people here have invested in me. Coaches, trainers, mentors and everybody. To see how far I’ve come from playing Line Six to now playing Line One and being the captain of a young team, it’s crazy to think about.”
That was four years, 81 singles wins and 77 doubles wins ago and counting. She didn’t think twice when she committed to Georgia Tech back then and had no second-thoughts as her home career wound down Sunday.
“There are no regrets,” said David. “As hard as it is for her to have this come to an end, she made this decision to come to Georgia Tech. She had a lot of great opportunities. You just never know at that time what the four years are going to turn out to be. As I was thinking about it this morning, it’s nice to see that the decision she made at 17 or 18 years has turned out to be what she fully had hoped for and expected. She’s attributable to a lot of that happening as well as the whole Georgia Tech family.”
Kilborn, will be attributed with her eighth career match-clincher (the third this year), and will have finished her home career the way she started it — a 6-1, 6-1 victory over Princeton’s Sarah Huah on Sept. 18, 2009 at the Georgia Tech Invitational from Line Seven, as the team’s only freshman. It’s a match she still remembers.
“It’s been a fun ride,” she said. “I’m just so proud of this team and how far we’ve come this year, especially those three freshmen. They’re like little sisters to me. I’m so proud of them and proud of this team.”