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The New Freshman Class

July 24, 2011

By Matt Winklejohn
Sting Daily

– A quick look at MaChelle Joseph’s incoming class of three — one of the more highly-regarded recruiting classes in the history of Georgia tech women’s basketball by the way — reveals more than usual diversity.

You’ve got an American local – guard Sydney Wallace of Duluth’s Northview High;

There’s a far-flunger – Tjasa (T.J.) Gortnar of Slovenia;

And there’s a far-flunger from the U.S. – guard Sarah Hartwell of Tacoma, Wash.

If it seems like it might be hard to keep track of them all, imagine Joseph, who in addition to recruiting this summer and keeping tabs on returning players has spent time on planes in keeping up with her and soon-to-be Yellow Jackets.

Joseph’s been overseas to check in on Tech’s Swedish connection, and that’s not even the half of it.

Speaking to her recently, I swear I heard through the phone an angry cabbie barking in the background as Joseph was trying to get away from Chicago’s O’Hare airport on yet another one of her trips.

The youngsters all have this in common: they’re supposed to be darned good. Wallace is the headliner, and she and Hartwell are on campus. They’re working already with Tech’s strength and conditioning staff.

Joseph spoke glowingly of Gortnar, part of the first-ever Slovenian junior team to advance past the European Championships and to the U-19 Worlds.

We’re talking 6-feet-2, with a variety of moves, and Gortnar’s not afraid to use them. She scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in her team’s loss to Chinese Taipei the other day in the opening round of World play in frosty Chile (it’s winter there). Gortnar has at time operated in the shadow of Slovenian point guard Nika Baric, but she has on occasion cast a shadow on Baric as well.

“TJ is definitely an impact player,” Joseph said. “Her international experience has been tremendous. Since she was 14 she’s been on the national team. This is the first time they’ve every qualified for the worlds, and it’s a big deal for them. They’ve beat France and Italy and teams like that. She’s a big part of that.”

The 5-9 Wallace is, purely put, a pure scorer.

With a nickname like “Kobe,” you get the pictures. She has consistently been ranked by scouting services among the top 50 players in the nation in the freshman class of 2011-12, and among the top-10 shooting guards.

“Sydney is the most highly-regarded recruit that we have in this class, a tremendous scorer,” Joseph said. “I think the thing that is going to help her in our system is her speed and quickness. Her ability to score, and to shoot the three, that’s [what is ] is going to give her an opportunity to play, to shoot the three.

“She was recruited by just about everybody. With added strength, she could be a real impact player.”

On both the same and flip sides of Wallace . . . Hartwell is respected as a fabulous athlete who really digs in defensively. That’s a big deal in Joseph’s world. With good size, at 5-9 or so, Hartwell has both length and skills. She was part of two state championship track and field teams at Tacoma’s Belarmine Prep.

“She’s a very different type player; her strength is her defense,” the Tech coach said. “She’s a very athletic wing player that is really solid defensively. She’s a track athlete, very quick and athletic. The biggest thing for her is going to be offensive development.”

Given Hartwell’s hometown, and the fact that one of the top players in Tech women’s history, WNBA rookie Alex Montgomery, also is from Tacoma . . . you have to ask.

“They don’t really know each other,” Joseph said. “Sarah knows of the success [Montgomery] had at GT, and she followed her career. She originally signed with Xavier, and when they had a coaching change, she got released and contacted us. “I think all of these freshmen have a chance to contribute. I never put limitations on anyone coming in. I just like to go into it with an open mind. They have to compete.”

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