©Colette Lewis 2007--
The chants of "Alie, Alie" rose louder and louder as Georgia Tech senior Alison Silverio's lead over UCLA's Tracy Lin at No. 2 singles went from 4-1 to 5-1. Lin was serving, but she had already been broken twice in the third set, and the crowd, led by the very vocal Georgia Tech men's team, could sense a championship.
Yellow Jacket Tarryn Rudman was staving off elimination at No. 6 singles against Bruin Elizabeth Lumpkin, but she trailed 2-5 in the third, so all eyes were focused on Silverio and Lin, the two players who would determine which team would capture their first NCAA women's tennis title.
There wasn't much time for the suspense to build. Silverio had her chance at 30-40, and when Lin's ball sailed long, the third-seeded Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets had earned not just their first tennis title, but their school's first NCAA championship in any sport. (Georgia Tech has won national championships in football, but they are not recognized as NCAA titles).
Silverio, a right-hander from Ohio, distributed the credit for her 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 win in all directions.
"The crowd was unbelievable, and the support from my team and the coaches--I couldn't ask for a better environment," Silverio said.
Although the Georgia Tech supporters didn't approach the numbers of the Georgia fans witnessing the men's final during the afternoon, the Yellow Jackets' title run had drawn a strong contingent from Atlanta throughout the tournament. And the cheers, whistles and applause they generated during the post-match trophy presentation were loudest for head coach Bryan Shelton.
"I love winning," said Shelton, in his eighth season at Georgia Tech. "I think everyone does, but for us to get this one, and get the first one for Georgia Tech, it's special. I went to school there, so Georgia Tech's always had a special place in my heart, and it's nice to be able to contribute in a positive way."
The match's start didn't go positively for Georgia Tech, as the 12th-seeded UCLA team zipped through the doubles point, winning at the number two position when Ashley Joelson and Alex McGoodwin defeated Amanda Craddock and Silverio 8-3, and at No. 1 when Riza Zalameda and Yasmin Schnack took out Kristi Miller and Whitney McCray by the same score. But Shelton reassured his team during the ten minute break before singles began.
"We took a beating," Shelton admitted, "but I told them that UCLA's strength was in their doubles. I said that's the best that we'll see all night, and the rest of the way through, we can win six matches."
And the Yellow Jackets came out as if they believed it, taking the first set in four of the six matches.
As she had done in Georgia Tech's semifinal win over Cal, freshman Amanda McDowell dominated her opponent at No. 4, earning Tech's first point with a 6-1, 6-0 rout of Ashley Joelson. Schnack gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead at No. 3, defeating Craddock 6-3, 6-1, but that was the only singles point UCLA would earn.
At the No. 1 position, Miller had taken her first set from Zalameda 6-3, and when she won a second set tiebreak to pull Tech even at 2, the Yellow Jackets had seized the momentum.
"I don't know if there was an exact turning point," said UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster, "but when Kristi Miller won at 1, that was a match that I think we needed to win. Every set, every match, was so close."
Christy Striplin, who had clinched Tech's semifinal against Cal late Monday night, finished her comeback at No. 5 with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Alex McGoodwin to give the Yellow Jackets a 3-2 lead, setting the stage for Silverio's heroics.
"I think she got a little excited in the second set," said Shelton, who with the win became the first African-American to win a Division I tennis title. "She started pressing a little bit and playing right into Tracy Lin's strength. She made the adjustment to play a little bit heavier, take the ball up a little bit higher where Tracy didn't like it, get weak replies and then capitalize when she was inside the baseline."
Shelton, who is as calm and reserved while coaching on court as his players are feisty, made a point of recognizing the contributions of all those involved in Georgia Tech's run to the championship during the trophy ceremony. And he also acknowledged his debt to Dan Magill, the legendary coach of the University of Georgia.
"I started to gain a perspective on how tough things were when I talked with Dan Magill and heard how long it took him to earn his first SEC title. I realized it's not as easy as I thought it would be. Building a program is hard work, and it requires a lot of people working together, not just one person doing it."
And as his players gathered for the obligatory photos with the National Championship trophy, Shelton, in the center of it all, could savor the fruits of that teamwork.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007