May 5, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
It needs a catchy nickname, and since Selection Sunday’s taken, plus it was another day of the week, “Tennis Tuesday” will have to work.
Unlike all the whooping and hollering you see televised in conjunction with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection show in March, there was a modicum of zany behavior at the Bill Moore Tennis Center Tuesday.
There, members of the men’s and women’s tennis teams took a break from finals and gathered to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show(s) on ESPNews in the 5 p.m. hour. The mood may have been sedate by comparison for this reason among others: postseason play has come to be expected at Georgia Tech. It is a norm.
Coaches Bryan Shelton and Kenny Thorne may not want to word it this way, but this has already been a whooper of a year for Georgia Tech athletics and there remains significant potential for more whooping.
The Jackets have earned NCAA tournament invitations already in men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, and men’s and women’s tennis.
There is no NCAA postseason in football, but a trip to the Orange Bowl counts in this book, and while the softball and baseball tourney fields won’t be picked for weeks, both Tech entries are locks (and possible host sites). A golf team that has to play its way into the NCAAs next week is coming off an ACC Tournament championship and will host said regional.
So, perhaps not surprisingly everybody was upbeat even before both teams learned they earned bids. The ACC Tournament champion women (18-9) were tabbed as hosts for the first two rounds with Austin-Peay (18-3) as their initial draw, and the men (17-7) punched a ticket to play Binghamton (25-1) next week at Kentucky.
Generally speaking, the men sat on the right facing a TV in the Bill Moore lobby, and the women on the left. In the rear, men’s coach Kenny Thorne and women’s coach Bryan Shelton – long ago Tech teammates and stars – sat near one another.
There was a bit of a whoop when the brackets flashed and listed Tech as one of 16 host sites (and one of five ACC squads rolling out the red carpet next week). Other than that, the ladies seemed most amused as some of their past opponents appeared in highlights. No need to say who it was, but there were a few giggles when one of the nation’s top grunters, well, grunted right there on TV.
In the end, Shelton – who seems almost always to be smiling – clear came off tickled to be staying at home, and his team is guaranteed not to play out of state again this season as the tournament past the first two rounds will be at the University of Georgia.
“We’re excited to be able to play in front of our own crowd, in a place that we’re familiar with,” he said. “You just play one at a time. You can’t look at the whole [64-team field] or it’s overwhelming.”
Several of Thorne’s lads were hitting balls outside until within moments of 5 p.m. before they plopped themselves down on a sofa or the floor in front of the TV.
Guillermo Gomez, who all school year has been one of the top male players in the nation, got charged up several times. Every time the World Cup soccer (futbol?) commercial came on (at least three times in the hour) with Bono narrating and a hint of U2 music in the background, the Spaniard would start. “That’s going to be great; there is nothing like it in the world,” he said.
Gomez may know more about some of the World Cup squads than Binghamton, champions of the America East Conference.
But he and Thorne will learn plenty before next weekend’s match.
“We hadn’t seen Kentucky or Binghamton play,” Thorne said. “We’ve seen some individual players at some individual tournaments. We just got to find out a little more about guys we haven’t seen.”
And in case anyone is wondering, while the Jackets don’t seem to mind the idea of traveling to Kentucky, Thorne said they would not have minded seeing the Bulldogs again next week. They’re not necessarily happy to be avoiding a regional at UGA, where the Dogs were tabbed as a first- and second-round host for one of the 16 four-team pods.
“Absolutely not. I feel like we’ve been there as much as they have been there. We’ve been there five times this year. If they had put us there, that was not going to be a problem at all.”