Yellow Jackets complete dramatic turnaround with title


ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia Tech athletics director Dan Radakovich really isn't sure how bad his school's women's tennis team was until coach Bryan Shelton was hired before the 2000 season.

In the first 23 years of the program, the Yellow Jackets never made the NCAA Tournament and had a winning record in ACC play only once in 16 seasons in the league.

Shelton, a former All-American player at Georgia Tech and a six-time Wimbledon participant, led the Yellow Jackets to their first NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Georgia Tech has been back to the NCAA championships every season since, and on Tuesday night the No. 3 seeded Yellow Jackets won the school's first official national championship by defeating No. 12 seed UCLA 4-2 in the finals at Georgia's Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

"I don't know where it was eight years ago," Radakovich said, after senior Alison Silverio clinched the match with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-1 victory over Tracy Lin at No. 2 singles. "But I know where it is today -- they are national champions."

Technically, Georgia Tech most recently shared the 1990 football national championship with Colorado, after the Yellow Jackets were voted No. 1 in the final United Press International Poll. Georgia Tech also won football national titles in 1917, 1928 and 1952, but the NCAA doesn't recognize champions in Division I-A football because polls decide the sport and not a championship event.

Tuesday's match was only the third time a Georgia Tech team had competed in a championship event. The men's basketball team lost to Connecticut 82-73 in the 2004 NCAA championship game. The baseball team lost to Oklahoma 13-5 in the 1994 College World Series finals, and the men's golf team has been the national runner-up four times, losing in a playoff in 2000.

In fact, before the tennis team beat Fresno State, Notre Dame and California to reach the finals here, the previous best showing by a women's team from Georgia Tech was the volleyball squad reaching the NCAA Elite Eight in 2003.

"Obviously, for everyone that's been involved with Georgia Tech forever, this a momentous occasion," Radakovich said. "To have these young ladies and Bryan be the first, we couldn't be prouder."

Eight years ago, Shelton might have seemed like the least likely coach to lead Georgia Tech to its first NCAA team championship. There had been five coaches before him, none of whom won more than 86 games and collectively had produced three wins in the ACC championships and none in the NCAAs.

I don't know where it was eight years ago. But I know where it is today -- they are national champions.

Dan Radakovich

Further, the school had never produced an All-America player in women's tennis and had never won in 15 matches against rival Georgia, which dominated the state in terms of recruiting.

But Shelton quickly turned around the program, winning three consecutive ACC titles and producing seven All-Americans. He has a 139-62 record at Georgia Tech, which also beat rival Georgia in two of its last three matches.

"I love winning, and I think everyone does," Shelton said. "For us to get the first one at Georgia Tech, it's special because I went to school there and Georgia Tech has always had a special place in my heart. To go there and contribute is special."

The Lady Bruins, who ended a 20-match losing streak to No. 1 seed Stanford with a stunning 4-2 victory in Monday night's semifinals, seemed to be on their way to winning their first national championship. UCLA won 8-3 at both Nos. 1 and 2 doubles, taking a 1-0 lead in the match.

The Lady Bruins led 2-1 after Yasmin Schnack defeated Amanda Craddock 6-3, 6-1 at No. 3 singles. But then Georgia Tech's Kristi Miller, the country's No. 6 singles player, won at No. 1 singles. Christy Striplin won at No. 5 and then Silverio clinched the match.

"It's been an incredible four years," Silverio said. "I came to this program as a freshman and we were ranked No. 42 in the country. To end up my senior year as the national champions is an amazing accomplishment."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.