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May 14, 2010

Don’t believe that winning is contagious? Think all the talk of positive energy is a bunch of hokum?

The ACC Champion Georgia Tech Women’s Tennis Team begs to differ.

Among the truest believers are freshman Elizabeth Kilborn and sophomore Lynn Blau, who are proving just how contagious winning can be and how realistic positive energy is and can point to the Jackets’ run to the ACC Tournament Championship.

It’s a run they look to continue this afternoon, when they open NCAA Tournament play as host of the Atlanta Regional. Tech will take the court at 1:00 p.m., against Austin Peay. The winner advances to play the winner of the 10:00 a.m. match between Ole Miss and UC-Irvine. That match begins Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

Tech’s winning streak has reached epidemic proportions, as the Jackets have won nine of their last 11 matches. Over that span, Blau and Klborn are a combined 18-4, with each going 9-2. Only Irina Falconi — the nation’s No. 1 singles player — has a better record over that stretch, going 11-0.

While neither Kilborn nor Blau was aware of her hot streak, both were well aware of the presence and support of the other. Playing at Nos. 4 and 5 singles, Kilborn and Blau played on adjacent courts, which meant each other’s support system was always close by.

“We feed off each other and get each other fired up,” said Blau. “It’s nice to know that that person next to you is going to stay out there and fight as hard as you’re fighting, and wanting it as bad as you want it. When you’re down, that person next to you is firing you up and giving you positive energy. I was doing the same thing to her. That’s what we’ve been doing the last matches.”

“We’re playing right next to each other and Lynn is next to me getting all fired up and pulling some big ‘Come ons,'” agreed Kilborn. “That just pumped me up so much. We’re able to feed off each other and get each other through some tough matches. She brings out the best in me.”

Their results reflect their raised level of their play.

“One thing that has stood out is their toughness on the court and their ability to not force the end of the point but wait for the right opportunity to come in and finish at the net,” said Assistant Coach Anca Dumitrescu. “Just the patience and that determination that’s required to sustain the points long enough against quality opponents, that’s the big change that I’ve seen with them. Also, their maturity on the court, their body language, especially with Lynn, that’s the main area of interest.”

Blau and Kilborn stood tall In the ACC’s, when Tech knocked off Virginia Tech then ran the gauntlet, disposing of No. 11 Miami, No. 8 Clemson and, finally No. 1 North Carolina. Blau and Kilborn were a combined 8-0.

Each showed that they’d learned something from the regular season.

For Kilborn, it was the ability to close three-set matches. Heading into the Tournament, the Marietta native was 2-3 in such matches, including losses against Miami’s Gabriela Mejia and North Carolina’s Sophie Grabinski. The freshman used the losses as a learning tool.

“I knew I was close to getting those wins. It was just a matter of time,” she said. “I think getting more experience and confidence helped. In the ACCs, I gained a lot of confidence. It gave me a lot of confidence to start turning those three-setters around and start winning them.”

The ACC Tournament allowed Kilborn to avenge three of her regular-season losses. In her second-round match, Kilborn got even for her three-set loss to Mejia back in late March in Miami, with a three-set victory of her own (7-5, 1-6, 6-3). The next day, she spotted Clemson’s Laurianne Henry a set, then gritted out a pair of 6-4, 6-4 wins to take the match. Beating Henry avenged her worst loss of the season, a 1-6, 0-6 loss back on Feb. 24. In the Finals, Kilborn swept out Grabinski (6-2, 7-5), who’d knocked off Kilborn in a tough three-setter at Moore Center on April 11.

Blau also had struggles during the season, dropping seven of eight matches at one point, four of them in three sets. She would bounce back and heat up, losing only two more matches and dropping only six sets over her final 13 matches.

“It felt really great, because I had a rough season. I had a bunch of losses in a row but at the end of the day it made me much tougher,” said the native of Koerich, Luxembourg. “Now when I go out there, I know what it feels like to lose so many matches in a row and I know what it feels like to win. So I just take the positives out of every match, treat every match the same way, and just fight. The biggest part for me was to stay out there and compete.”

In the ACC’s Blau knocked off Nelly Ciolkowski in straight sets, Ciolkowski had beaten Blau earlier in the year in a three-set match. In the finals, Blau beat Gina Suarez-Malaguti in three sets (Blau beat her in straight sets in their previous meeting).

Blau feels the ACC Championship and the team’s success is a reward for all the hard work they put in. But the Jackets are not done and are looking to reap further rewards, starting Friday.

Even though they’ve never seen Austin Peay, Kilborn, who will be competing in her first NCAA Tournament, is excited just to get back on the court and compete against someone other than a teammate, which she and her teammates have done in gearing up over the last week.

“I’m definitely really excited to get started,” she said. “I feel like it’s been a while since we finished up the ACCs, so we’re all anxious to get back out there and start competing again.”

Having the familiarity of the courts at The Moore Center and the energy from the home crowd adds to the excitement and momentum.

“It’s just great playing at home, having your home crowd behind you,” said Blau, who will be playing in her second NCAA Tournament. “It’s always an advantage. We’re really, really excited and looking forward to competing.”


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