©Colette Lewis 2008--
A week doesn't seem like much time to recast a team identity, but for Georgia Tech, it was long enough to transform a 6-1 loss to Northwestern last Saturday into a 4-2 win over the Wildcats in Sunday's Women's Team Indoor.
"We knew we were going to learn something from that loss, and what we learned was that we couldn't win on our talent," said Georgia Tech head coach Bryan Shelton. "We took a hard look at ourselves in the mirror and asked if we were doing everything we needed to do to be successful. I saw a big difference this week in our attitude at practice and I knew that loss last week was going to be something that was going to help us this season."
Georgia Tech, the No. 4 seed, began their turnaround by taking the doubles point. When No. 3 doubles went the the Yellow Jackets and No. 2 to Northwestern, it was decided when Kristi Miller and Kirsten Flower prevailed at the No. 1 spot 8-5.
Unlike Saturday, when Tech was down 3-0 to Stanford in the semifinals, the defending champions came out strong, especially at Nos. 3 and 4. Christy Striplin at No. 4 gave Tech their second point with a 6-3, 6-2 decision over Nazlie Ghazal, but shortly thereafter, Suzie Matzenauer of Northwestern had put her team on the board taking out Noelle Hickey at No. 6 6-2, 6-4. Within moments of that match's end, Georgia Rose brought the Wildcats even, with a 6-3, 6-1 pounding of Kristi Miller at No. 1.
Georgia Tech's Amanda McDowell had lost the first set at No. 2 singles versus Maria Mosolova, but was comfortably ahead in the second set. At No. 3, Whitney McCray had taken the first set from Northwestern's Samantha Murry, but was down in the second set. At No. 5 singles, Tech's Kirsten Flower and Lauren Lui were engaged in a lengthy battle, with Flower taking the first set 6-4.
McCray broke back at 5-4, when Murray was serving for the second set, and fought through to a 6-1, 7-5 victory to give Tech's its third point. McDowell had earned a split at No. 2, and with Flower down 5-1 in the second set, it looked as if the third set at No. 2 or No. 5 would decide it.
But Flower had other ideas. She broke Lui at 5-1, brushed aside two set points at 5-3 and broke Lui at love to make it 5-4. The sophomore from Ohio, who had collected Tech's third point against Stanford, held, then won her fifth straight game by breaking Lui for a 6-5 lead and a chance to serve out the championship.
She was broken however, when an untimely double fault and two errors tipped the game to Lui. The tiebreaker saw Flower take a 4-1 lead, and her Tech teammates were shouting words of encouragement from the sidelines, but it wasn't going to be that easy. Flower lost the next two points on a forehand winner by Lui and a backhand error, but Lui couldn't capture any momentum. The left-hander from Houston missed an overhead and a forehand to give Flower three championship points, but Flower lost two of them on her serve. But at 6-5, Lui couldn't handle a short forehand and as it caught the tape, the screams of the Georgia Tech faithful, a dozen or two of whom had made the journey to frigid Wisconsin, echoed throughout the Nielsen Tennis Center.
Asked what she was thinking down 5-1 in the second, Flower, who has never lost a singles match in two years at the Team Indoor, was determined not to just let the set go.
"Being down 5-1, you're obviously down by a lot," said Flower, "but I felt like I'd won the first set, and Amanda was still playing, so I felt if I could just stay out here...She (Lui) started strong in both sets, yet ended up making errors at the end, so I knew it could possibly turn for me very quickly, because that's what happened in the first set."
For Flower it was especially sweet to be the clinching match in both singles and doubles.
"It's great for me because I've never done it before," said Flower. "It was great for me to come out here in a pressure situation, in a big match, come through for my team. I tend to get nervous and this is really a monkey off my back. My back was against the wall in a couple of matches here and I came through, and I haven't done that before, so it was really, really cool for me."
Northwestern expected that Georgia Tech would come out more determined after last weekend's loss, and head coach Claire Pollard had prepared her team for it.
"I think we made them a little upset last week," Pollard said. "And I was concerned about the revenge factor. I think we kind of woke them up, and a great team is going to respond. They're a fantastic team. It was their title, and they didn't want to give it up."
But the win last weekend had helped her team gain confidence coming into the tournament.
"I don't think we would have been in the final had we not won last weekend," Pollard said. "But I think it was really hard for us to come out and do that again."
Shelton is happy to retain the trophy, but knows that as NCAA and Team Indoor Champions, the Yellow Jackets will get every team's best shot the rest of the season.
"We really haven't distanced ourselves, there's a lot of parity in women's college tennis," said Shelton. "That's why we have to take care of the things we have in our control, really fight and play hard every single day."
Sunday, February 10, 2008