The Georgia Tech men’s team heads to the NCAA round of 16 for the first time since 1994. The women are going back for the sixth time in seven years after an upset in 2010. Plenty of good feeling pervades the tennis program, one of a remarkable nine in the country (including Georgia) that will send men’s and women’s teams to the championships beginning Thursday at Stanford.
“Kenny and I, we’ve been together since we were 13 years old,” women’s coach Bryan Shelton said of men’s tennis coach Kenny Thorne. “It’s special to be in this position with him and his team, his program, and for us to go out there to California together.”
As junior players in Alabama, Thorne and Shelton shared the same coach and then were teammates at Tech before eventually taking over their respective teams, Thorne in 1999 and Shelton a year later. They’ve been two of the most successful coaches in any sport at Tech since then. My former colleague Matt Winkeljohn wrote a great story on them a few days ago for the Tech website.
Anyway, the Tech men, ranked 16th in the country, beat Middle Tennessee State Friday and No. 21 Mississippi State Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16. It is a season a few years in the making. Of the seven players in the lineup, four are seniors, including ACC player of the year Guillermo Gomez. He and two teammates, Eliot Potvin and Dean O’Brien, will give professional tennis a shot after the season ends.
“It’s a credit to those guys that wanted to leave the program really in a better position than when they came in,” Thorne said.
They’ll play two-time defending champion Southern California Thursday in their round of 16 match.
The No. 16 women’s team took out Jacksonville State Saturday and then No. 17 Arizona State, 4-1. Shelton gave credit to his three doubles teams, which swept the Sun Devils to earn the doubles point, and then the team’s lone senior, Sasha Krupina. At No. 5 singles, she quickly bounced Michelle Brycki to give the Jackets a head start in the singles matches.
The women drew No. 3 Duke in the round of 16 and will play Friday. A year ago, Tech was in the round of 32, expecting to make the round of 16 for a sixth consecutive year and was upset by Ole Miss.
“That taste has been in our mouths for a year, so it’s nice to kind of replace that with something good,” Shelton said.
Shelton, the only coach at Tech in any sport to win an NCAA-sanctioned national championship (football’s championship is not awarded by the NCAA), feels that the pressure is off.
“I feel like this match kind of got us over a hump and now we can swing away,” he said after the defeat of Arizona State. “I feel comfortable going out to California and continuing forward with this group.”