Georgia Tech Rallies from 3-0 Down to Earn Finals Berth Against Northwestern at ITA Women's Indoor Championships
©Colette Lewis 2008--
Defending National Indoor champion Georgia Tech ousted top seed and No. 1 ranked Stanford Saturday evening, rallying from a 3-0 deficit to earn another shot at the Northwestern University Wildcats, who knocked the Yellow Jackets from the No. 1 spot by defeating them 6-1 in Atlanta last weekend.
It was senior Kristi Miller at No. 1 singles who clinched it for Georgia Tech, defeating Lindsay Burdette 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-3 to send her screaming teammates in a mad dash from the second floor balcony bleachers down the stairs and on to the court to celebrate the improbable comeback.
Stanford captured the doubles point, when the No. 2 team of Whitney Deason and Jessica Nguyen came back from a break down to beat Amanda McDowell and Whitney McCray 8-5. The Cardinal took the second and third points quickly, with freshman Hilary Barte defeating McCray at No. 3 6-1, 7-5 and senior Celia Durkin dispatching Christy Striplin 7-5, 6-1 at No. 4. With Miller, McDowell and Kirsten Flower down a set, things did not look promising for the 2007 NCAA champions, but when McDowell forced a third set in her match with Nguyen at the No. 2 position, the tenor of the action began to change.
Noelle Hickey at No. 6, the only Georgia Tech player who won the first set, finished off fellow freshman Carolyn McVeigh 6-2, 6-3 to earn Tech's first point, and shortly thereafter McDowell chalked up the second, downing Nguyen 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Flower, at No. 5, broke Deason at 3-4 in the third set, and saving a break point in the final game, came up with some clutch serving to bring her team even and send all attention to Miller and Burdette.
By this time, Miller had secured the second set and was desperately trying to hold on to any early break in the third set. Serving at 2-1, Miller survived the ten-minute, multi-deuce game, and after holds in the next two games, Miller got an insurance break to take a 5-2 lead, when Burdette double faulted on game point. Miller was fortunate to have that cushion, because she was broken herself to make it 5-3, but Burdette continued to have problems with her serve, double faulting two more times in the final game. Miller took advantage of the free points and with her second match point, stroked a short angle forehand winner to set off the celebration.
While the excitement was reaching a crescendo in the Stanford-Georgia Tech match, No. 3 seed Northwestern had quietly disposed of giant-killer North Carolina 4-0. After two 4-3 wins over Pac-10 powers UCLA and USC, the Tar Heels were hoping for a third upset, but the Wildcats quickly put an end to that dream to reach the Team Indoor finals for the first time.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," said Northwestern head coach Claire Pollard. "But we certainly came in here with an objective and we're not going to be satisfied with reaching the finals."
The Wildcats, now 6-0, have gained confidence with each victory, but the 6-1 win over Georgia Tech on the road opened their eyes to the possibilties of this season.
"We were suspicious that we were good, but that sort of solidified it and gave us some belief that we could compete at the top level," Pollard said.
Georgia Tech head coach Bryan Shelton expressed delight at getting another opportunity at the Wildcats so soon.
"We couldn't have asked for anything more than this," Shelton said. "First of all to play the quarters against Georgia, the in-state rivalry, get through that one, then to get Stanford in the semis. Not too many teams have knocked that team off in the past five years, and to be able to do it in back-to-back years is special for us. Then to have the opportunity to play Northwestern--we learned a lot from that loss, it really motivated our girls."
"[The Wildcats] are obviously riding high right now, but our girls are excited and we're going to go out there swinging away," Shelton said.
Earlier in the day, Notre Dame's Brook Buck was named recipient of the ITA Sportsmanship Award.
For complete scores and results, including consolation matches, see the ITA site.