May 14, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Guillermo Gomez is accustomed to traveling, but the senior (senor?) Spaniard would have a tough time recalling a trip that he’s looked forward to as much as Georgia Tech’s next journey.
Gomez turned momentum back in the direction of the 16th-ranked Yellow Jackets Saturday, and his teammates ran with the mo to beat No. 21 Mississippi State 4-1 to win their NCAA regional at the Bill Moore Tennis center.
Tech (21-5) will play Southern California Thursday at Stanford in the tennis equivalent of the Sweet 16. It will be the first time since 1994 the Jackets have gone that far in postseason play.
Gomez, ranked No. 14 in the nation, has been to the NCAAs, as an individual. He’s looking forward to a change compared with his first three seasons at Tech.
“Right now it’s a terrific feeling, Gomez said after beating No. 61 Artem Ilyushin 6-2, 7-6 (7-3). “It’s the first time we’ve done [this] as a team. I’ve been going [to NCAAs] every year by myself, and I was looking at other teams having such a good time. It’s going to be special.”
Saturday met that criteria.
The Tech women had already whipped Jacksonville State 4-0 to advance to today’s second round by the time the men took the courts.
A great crowd was on hand. That hawk I wrote about yesterday was overhead again, and after the Jackets cruised to win the doubles point behind wins at No. 1 (Kevin King and Juan Spir rolled 8-5) and No. 2 (Eliot Potvin and Ryan Smith won 8-3), some tension built in.
Spir fell at No. 2 singles to tie the match.
And after Gomez blew through his first set, he met adversity in the second. Yet not long after he regained his mojo in the tiebreaker to win, King won 6-2, 6-3 at No. 3 singles for a 3-1 lead.
Gomez, whose father made the trip from Spain to see his son play, became a fan.
Soon, his roommate, fellow senior Dean O’Brien, repeated his effort from the Georgia match earlier this season.
O’Brien’s 6-4, 6-4 win over MSU’s Zach White at No. 6 singles wasn’t fraught with as much tension as his three-set win to clinch the UGA match (Tech’s first win over those Bulldogs in 23 years). But it wasn’t a walk through the park.
That win pushed the Jackets over the top for their second win over MSU this season. A team that returned intact after going to the NCAA regionals last season only to fall in the second round at Kentucky to Kentucky took advantage of earning the right to host first- and second-round matches this season.
“Dean got a service break right after Kevin finished and put away his match,” said Tech head coach Kenny Thorne. “He’s clinched two of our biggest matches this year. He’s worked really hard in the two years he’s been with us.”
If the women’s team can find similar success today against Arizona at 1 p.m., both Tech teams will be in Palo Alto, Calif., at the same time next week.
That’d be a first, and more good times.
“I just want to say thanks to everybody [in the crowd]; it was probably the biggest since I’ve been here,” Gomez said. “They were loud. That was really good. [Thorne] was very happy. He told us to enjoy the moment, and enjoy sharing it with each other.”
Let me know if you attended Saturday’s match at Tech, and/or if you’re going to the women’s match today. If you haven’t scheduled your day, you might be surprised how cool it is to attend these matches. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.