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#TGW: Blazing The Oregon Trail

Blazing The Oregon Trail
Women’s tennis opens spring in unfamiliar territory vs. familiar face
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

There’s something mysterious and alluring about the Pacific Northwest.

Maybe it’s the way it’s tucked away almost in the attic of the United States, almost diametrically opposite the Southeast.

There’s the friendliness aspect, its brand of Southern hospitality. You can’t go anywhere without seeing the slogan “Be Nice You’re In Oregon.” The almost constant grey sky adds a drowsiness factor, but then there’s the contrasting greenery all around.

It’s tempting to become almost TOO comfortable. You wonder if it’s some kind of trap being set.

This is the backdrop against which 11th-ranked Georgia Tech women’s tennis opens its 2017 spring season. Adding to the trap feel is that on Sunday the Jackets see a face from their past in former player and assistant coach and now University of Oregon head coach Alison Silverio.

“When Ally got the job there she and I had talked about playing home-and-home in the future,” said Georgia Tech head coach Rodney Harmon. “So this particular time frame worked well in our schedule to go out and get some matches in. She’s doing a really good job out there. The Pac-12 is a tough place, like the ACC, but her team is building and coming on. It’s going to be a test for us.”

The kind of test that saw Oregon bring down ACC colleague and then-No. 30 Virginia Tech — that match was in Lubbock, Texas, in last year’s ITA Kickoff Weekend.

The Yellow Jackets had their guard up as they prepared to open its 2017 spring schedule taking on the University of Portland from the West Coast Conference on Saturday (the match begins at 3 p.m. EST), then meeting host Oregon on Sunday. Both matches will be held at the University of Oregon Student Tennis Center in Eugene and can be seen live online via Oregon’s official website, GoDucks.com, which will stream the matches (live stats also will be available GoDucks.com).

Heading west presents an interesting challenge for the Jackets, who certainly won’t be short of challenges this season, as they’re one of five teams from the ACC ranked in the ITA’s top 25.

“I’m hoping that we come out and play well. I’m more concerned about our level of play going into Kickoff Weekend (Jan. 28-29 at the Byers Center),” said Harmon, who brings a 55-39 record into year five at the helm. “I think we just need to continue to get better and continue to work on the things that we’ve been focusing on on the court, try to get our doubles teams to develop the chemistry they need and try to get our young players ready to play in their first real season of college tennis. They haven’t played dual matches yet. So it’s going to be good for them to get out and play.”

The Jackets should have their feet under them by the time they meet U of Portland, having made the five-hour, cross-country flight Thursday then practicing Friday, while Oregon was disposing of the Pilots, 6-1. Oregon will be off on Saturday.

Going about as far west as possible presents an interesting challenge for the team that has but one senior and could be playing as many as four freshmen.

“For a lot of our young players, we didn’t really leave home much in the fall,” said Harmon. “They’ve got to get used to being away from home and playing in a different environment because they’re going to do it a lot in our conference matches. It’s a good opportunity for them to get away and play and for us to see where we are at this time of the year.”

The ITA thinks they’re in a good place. In addition to ranking the team 11th nationally, ITA ranked senior Rasheeda McAdoo and freshman Nami Otsuka in the top 100 — McAdoo at 42, Otsuka at 82 — ranked McAdoo (No. 10), Otsuka (No. 16), and freshman Kenya Jones (No. 17) in the top-20 for the Southeast Region and the pair of McAdoo and junior Johnnise Renaud, No. 6 in the Region.

“I didn’t expect to be ranked at all so I was kind of surprised,” said Otsuka, who went 5-6 in singles in singles, 6-3 in doubles with fellow freshman Nadia Gizdova and has since added some muscle and more power to her already surprisingly powerful game. “I do think that it’s a good thing but it’s a lot of pressure. It is good to have a ranking.”

Harmon reinforced that his players belong where they are.

“They got the ranking based on wins,” he said. “They’ve gotten where they are based on beating people in the fall and playing well. It’s going to be a different kind of pressure, obviously, when you’re playing dual matches but, they’ve played on the big stage before.”

He warned that while getting the ranking is nice there’s a lot of work to do to hold onto and improve on it.

“Getting ranked high early doesn’t mean a thing. We haven’t accomplished a thing yet,” he said. “It’s what other people think. It’s not anything that you’ve proven yet so we have to go out and prove that we’re one of the better teams in the country.”

Enter Oregon, which has something to prove and incentive to win for its coach. Silverio played at Georgia Tech from 2003-07, the final two years as a teammate of current Tech assistant coach Christy Lynch (then Christy Striplin), where they were a part of Tech’s 2007 National Championship. She then was an assistant during Harmon’s first two years before getting her current gig.

It’s a happy reunion for Lynch.

“Alison is a great friend of mine and we’re so excited to go out there and see her team and they’ll get to see our team. It’s nice to see new competition,” said Lynch, who was named to Harmon’s staff in 2014, following Silverio’s exit for Eugene. “Ally and I played on the team together at Georgia Tech and were on the team that won a National Championship so we have great memories.”

That 2007 team, which also included Kristi Miller and Amanda McDowell, went 29-4 under coach Bryan Shelton, winning National Indoors, topping Stanford to end the Cardinal’s 89-match win streak and taking its final 21 matches. No. 21 came on May 22, against UCLA, at Henry Feild Stadium in Athens, Ga. Lynch and Silverio both played big parts, as Lynch won her singles match, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, to give the Jackets a 3-2 advantage, setting the stage for Silverio’s 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 championship clincher over No. 40 Tracy Lin.

“I finished about 20 minutes before she won so as soon as I finished, I sprinted up to her court because I did not want to miss her getting the clinch,” Lynch recalled. “I wanted it so much for her because she was a senior and I knew it was going to come down to her if I could win my match. I knew that moment would be so special for all of us. To see her clinch the victory was a dream come true. We talk about that season a lot.”

Lynch feels there’s a lesson in ‘07 for the ‘16 team.

“It was a special team. Everybody was so committed and so disciplined,” Lynch recalled. “We really believed in each other. We set the bar high that year. We set a goal of winning the national championship. To finish the season having done that and accomplishing that together was incredible.

“I tell the girls all the time that anything’s possible,” she added. “If they have a goal of being the best they can do it.”

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