Georgia wins despite move inside
Bulldogs finish off Texas after rain forces match indoors
ATHENS, Ga. – There were outward signs that Georgia is flexible, the easiest to see being the Bulldogs' mixture of red & black fingernails. That's a school spirit sort of thing, manifested via manicure.
Playing half a match outdoors, and half indoors ... now that's a different deal requiring a different type of adaptation.
Indoors, “The courts are faster, and there's an echo with the ball. It's a different atmosphere as well,” said Georgia senior Chelsey Gullickson, the 2010 national singles champion. Teammate Lauren Herring added, “I feel like they [Texas] are a better indoors team. For some of their players, it suits their game pretty well.”
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Georgia was fairly well on its way to beating Texas on Thursday when the sky above the Dan McGill Tennis Complex opened up, and dumped. Soon enough, the rain stopped, but before long it started again and finally the 'Dogs and Longhorns were indoors.
No coach, or player likes going indoors unless the weather is dreadful. Florida coaches, in fact, were out almost immediately pushing water off the very courts where Texas and Georgia had been playing even before tournament officials began drying them. The defending national champions wanted nothing to do with a roof.
In a sport of sudden change, there was a chance that moving indoors might not have worked out for Georgia even though the Bulldogs are playing at home this week, they were ahead 1-0 at the time, had won the first set on all six singles court before the rain came, and were leading in the second set in four matches.
The No. 6 Dogs didn't have to look back very far to be reminded how the tide can turn.
They endured a rain delay last week in an NCAA regional at home, and after leading No. 24 Clemson 3-0 Georgia saw the Tigers rally to tie their NCAA second-round match 3-3. That left matters in the hands of Maho Kowase – who'd lost her first set at No. 3 singles, 6-0 – to stave off what would have been a fairly sizable upset. That match started outside, went inside, and finished outside.
In a rarity, Texas coach Patty Fendick-McCain actually looked forward to rain. She was hoping for a massive change of momentum somewhat like Clemson's turn last weekend.
“I was doing a little rain dance at one point but unfortuantely their top two girls were really good indoors,” Fendick-McCain said. “[Then] I was hoping we could flip a coin and get our Nos. 5 and 6 out there. I was a little disappointed when they said the top four were going first.”
Kowase came through, 7-5 and 6-1, against Clemson last weekend to save the Bulldogs from the misery of playing host to the NCAA tournament without being in it, but Georgia had no problem whatsoever Thursday in drying out Texas, 4-0. That finished indoors.
“Sometimes you need those hard matches to give you the confidence to get through,” Gullickson said. “We were able to get through against Clemson. The team came together to get through today.”
Herring should know about tough. Her matches last week (she won against the College of Charleston and lost her Clemson match) were her first in a few weeks. She had previously been sidelined with a shoulder injury, a ding that she played for a while with even though it forced her to serve under-handed.
Herring wasted little time getting back to work once the teams moved inside (as Duke and Virginia had to wait for the outdoor courts to dry to resume their simultaneous match because there are just four indoor courts at Georgia). She finished second, barely, knocking off Texas' Noel Scott 6-3, 6-3 at No. 4 singles.
“Once they said it was time to go indoors, I thought our players really did a good job and put their game faces on,” said Georgia coach Jeff Wallace. “It's one of those things. Last week we had a rain delay about the same time; it was similar to that.”
Gullickson and Herring also combined for an 8-4 win at No. 2 doubles while playing together for just the third time.
“I told our players after the match that from start to finish this might have been out best match of the year,” Wallace said. “What a great time to be playing and peaking. The crowd was awesome; they were absolutely phenomenal. We hope they come back Saturday [for the quarterfinals] and bring two friends.”
Rather than start either of the final two matches indoors, Florida and Michigan had to wait until 9:30 to start the the doubles portion of their match on the stadium courts where Texas and Georgia had started theirs. ACC rivals Miami and North Carolina also started the doubles portion of their match on the stadium courts at the same time as Duke and Virginia wrapped up their contest on adjacent courts.
NCAA rules prohibit matches from moving outdoors once they've started indoors.
There's only so much that players and coaches – and tournament officials – can do.
“We're not going to look at it as if it's annoying,” Wallace said. “It's just part of our sport.”