ATLANTA, GEORGIA — I think I figured it out - this time of year is the best time of year, from a college sports perspective. I know that’s a bold take, considering it includes exactly 0% of the football season, but there’s a crisp breeze in the air, hope springs eternal for spring sports, which are just starting now, and basketball is in full ACC swing. Heck, this year, we even get the surprise boost of a spring Volleyball season, and, well, they’re really great, too.
There was a time in my college career - this time my freshman year, to be exact - when I was this optimistic. Did I write this column, or even pay attention to nearly as many Tech sports then as I do now? No, no, I did not. I’ll admit, my first Tech tennis match came only once I started covering this. But there was an excitement in the air back then, too, and it was purely because of the success seen at McCamish Pavilion. I am reluctant to say that the Tech men’s basketball is a tournament team. The last time I was convinced, coming on the heels of upsetting top-25 North Carolina, Florida State, and Notre Dame teams, I was let down. Instead, I think it might be wise to look instead to this week first.
Is it time to dance around your house to the March Madness theme? No. But the women’s team is playing their way up the bracket, line by line, a game at a time. Baseball is ranked in the top 20 in every major poll. Women’s tennis is headed to the ITA Indoor National Championships after winning their Sweet Sixteen game today. And that only scratches the surface. If you’re not fired up by what we’ve seen of late, keep reading, maybe something will catch your eye. If you are, well, you already know why to keep up. Let’s dive in.
Last Week on the Flats
Women’s Basketball (8-3 Overall, 2-0 Last Week)
Polls - AP: NR / Coaches: NR
Nerd Stuff - NET: #21 / RPI: #13
If this team isn’t receiving votes in the next poll, we riot.
Tech started the week off strong with a trip up to Winston-Salem to meet the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest may not be great, but they almost upset no. 1 Louisville on Sunday, so they’re no slouch if they play their cards right, either. As one of the broadcasters noted, the question for Tech’s big centers and forwards isn’t whether or not they’ll get a double-double, it’s how long will it take for them to get ten points once they have ten rebounds. As they have in so many games this year, the ladies were dominant on the glass, and spread the ball out well to share the offensive load. the game was never really in doubt after halftime as the clock ticked on later and later, and, at one point, it legitimately looked that Tech could keep the hosts under forty points. Even in a blowout, we love a good Quest for Forty ™. Fortunately for us, though, that has been a long dormant meme, as the men and women of Tech basketball have had quite good offensive production so far this year.
As for the second game, it was a lot more of a barnburner. In a streaky, streaky game, it was Tech who was left standing at the end of the final buzzer. Before I even got to my seat, the Seminoles were winning 5-0, and though Tech was able to battle back to a tie, the visitors again raced ahead to a seven point lead at the first buzzer. The second quarter went all to the Jackets, though, as Tech was able to pile on points, to the point that, even though they were leading by four late in the half, it felt like they were running Florida State out of the gym. Once again, Tech was efficient on the offensive side and ruthless on the boards. The game ran into a screeching halt, though, when Sarah Bates went down with a high ankle sprain. Tech had added to a halftime lead to make it a twelve point, 48-36 margin, but with an offensive spark plug and lethal three point shot sidelined, Florida State found themselves with a late lead. However, the last streak would belong to the Jackets, and when they finally found themselves with some momentum - they put the ball in the hands of Fletcher, McQueen, or Lahtinen and essentially said “make it happen” - they were able to put their guests in the losing column with one final push. Florida State resorted to fouling, and excellent free throw shooting made it an even bigger Tech margin.
This team has fixed all of its glaring issues. It might be short on depth, but that’s a structural issue, not a solvable one. For the time being, they have earned every bit of their 3rd place ranking in the ACC. They have earned and deserve the respect of the pollsters, as well.
No. 12 Women’s Tennis (3-0 Overall, 3-0 This Week)
It’s a shame to give these ladies second billing this week, because they really ought to be first. As we noted last week, the Jackets were still in weekend action when this went to press. They wrapped up their weekend in Starkville with their first official win of the season, a 7-0 stomping of Memphis. That was the easy one this week, though, the rest would not be so easy.
As they have so many times, this weekend the Jackets hosted the kickoff weekend of ITA Indoors. However, this year, with a narrower field due to COVID concerns, it meant that the slate for the opener was much tougher than it has been in the past. Up first was regular nemesis no. 14 South Carolina. Tech started off this matchup on the right foot by taking the doubles point by winning on courts 1 and 2. Play was tied at 3-3 when the point was decided. Like clockwork, the ever-efficient Kenya Jones made quick work of the Gamecocks on Court 1 to push Tech’s lead to 2-0 by winning 6-2, 6-4. South Carolina was not caught sleeping, though, as they defeated Carol Lee and Gia Cohen on courts five and four in two sets each to tie the match. Tech’s Victoria Flores finished next, splitting the first two sets before cruising for a 6-1 win in the third set. On court two, freshman Ava Hrastar was up against South Carolina’s best singles player, Megan Davies, in her first home match of college. Despite that, she fought admirably, though fell in three sets, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3. This meant it all came down to court six. Poetic. On it, freshman Mahak Jain had gotten smoked 6-1 in the first set, which meant she had a hole to climb out of in order for Tech to pull of the win. However, a 6-3 bounce-back evened the score, putting the outcome of the entire match on the shoulders of Mahak Jain. She stepped up, taking a riveting third set to a 7-5 win, giving Tech the walk-off win, setting them up for an immediate matchup against no. 6 Duke on Sunday. Great.
It didn’t start out great for Tech, either. Duke stacked their lineup, putting their best doubles pair on court three up against a pair of very green freshmen. This went about as predictably expected, and Tech found itself needing to win four singles matches, where, especially on courts two and four, Tech was a large underdog. Even better, all six of Duke’s singles players are ranked in the top 100. It’s almost unfair how talented they are.
Of course, I say that, and no. 123 Gia Cohen immediately made quick work of no. 29 Chloe Beck, winning 6-3, 6-3 and tying the match. Of course, things got worse before they got better, and two freshmen on courts 5 and 6 took two set losses - though Lee on 5 came down to a tiebreak - meaning things would get dark quickly for the Jackets, staring at the wrong end of a 3-1 deficit. The Jackets, though, weren’t just going to quit. It started on court one, where Jones immediately flipped a 4-6 first set loss with a 6-0 second set, and would win the third 6-4 to claw back one point. Things would take substantially longer to play out on courts two and three, however.
Both two and three saw Hrastar and Flores, respectively, lose their first sets. Flores would finish her second set first, dealing Meible Chi a 6-3 loss, while Hrastar worked herself into an almost insurmountable 5-0 deficit. Things were surely bleak, but they were not over. Hrastar rattled off five straight games to tie the set at 5-5, and would go on to play Georgia Drummy into a tiebreaker, which Hrastar won in 5. Meanwhile, Flores had already started work on her third set. She, too, would find herself in a 4-1 hole, but much like the streak on court two, Flores matched with a five game streak of her own to even the match. It would all come down to the third set on court two. No one broke serve the entire way, meaning that it was the second straight set to go to the tiebreaker. Since it was the third set, and the match was tied at three points apiece, as Ethan Kreager noted, this made it follow not only what are colloquially called the “Super” tiebreaker rules, but the “Super Duper” tiebreaker rules.
In it, Hrastar came out on fire, taking an almost immediate 3-0 lead. She added to her lead, making it 5-2, before holding serve to reach the seventh point, winning the tiebreaker, the set, the court, and the match for the Yellow Jackets over a fantastically talented opponent.
I could go on for how compelling this match was for quite some time. All in all, a great weekend for Tech’s women’s tennis team.
Swimming and Diving
Polls - CSCAA M: #19 / W: NR
Nerd Stuff - CAP M: #11 / W: #29
OKAY OKAY OKAY. We need to talk about this sport and this matchup.
First, I will make a “send the Yellow Jackets to a watery grave” joke, because, on the surface, that’s kind of what Alabama - ranked no. 16 on the men’s side and no. 11 on the women’s - did to Tech. If this is not the supremely esoteric epitome of their fight song, I don’t know what is. I think that’s hilarious.
Second, the men only lost by eight points. That’s nothing, in the grand scheme. The Jackets dominated at the top, winning 11 events, and seeing, well, more than one male back in competition for the Jackets was reassuring. Ruben Lechuga looked great on both the 1m and 3m boards. They also had a nice contribution of a solid 1000m victory from Caleb Blischke, and it’s always nice to see names outside the reliable dominant core of Caio Pumputis, Christian Ferraro, and I think it is safe to say Batur Unlu should be on that list, too. They all look perfectly fine on the weekend.
Third, the women had an awesome showing in the 400 freestyle relay. Though they didn’t hold quite as much ground as one would hope against Alabama, they did win a relay against a great team, which has been hard to come by in the past. We will take it!
Fourth, I have repeatedly said the measuring stick for the ladies this year would be the Vanderbilt meet. After a week of delay, that finally happened on Saturday. To their credit, they looked excellent. Tech was able to construct a thorough beatdown of the Commodores, sweeping all 14 events, which, to my knowledge, has not been done by this team in years against Division 1 competition, if ever. This would be easier to double-check if they still published a swimming media guide, which they should absolutely do and it is extremely annoying that no longer exists (same for Track and Field and Cross Country).
So, all in all a good weekend. The men still haven;t won a dual meet, and are still ranked in the top 20. This is a weird sport! But there’s no cause for alarm. They’re fixing to be excellent at the end of the year.
No. 20 Golf
Tech held steady in seventh place down in Panama City Beach the rest of the week in their opening week of competition, though Tech got steadily better as the tournament went on, and definitely played their best golf on the back nine (err, front nine, but they started on 10) on the third day. On the whole, Luke Karaulic tied for 25th in his first appearance for Tech, while Will Dickson finished 15th and Ben Smith, who competed as an individual, tied for twentieth.
Track and Field
Nicole Fegans was the story of the weekend for Tech, as she destroyed more longstanding Tech records competing this weekend in Columbia, SC. Tech didn’t head to Vanderbilt, as planned, but reasons why were unclear, but probably COVID-related. As for Fegans, in Columbia, her time of 16:06.50 in the indoor 5K bested the 2002-era previous record by 6 seconds, and topped her own personal best by ten seconds in the process. As per RamblinWreck.com, the sizable rest of the field included South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn, Campbell, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, N. Carolina A&T, Savannah State and Southern Wesleyan, a larger slate than Tech has seen so far this year, and it was just the second race of the season for Fegans, so the season seems to finally be shaping out for Track and Field. The ladies had three other top five finishers, while the men three top five finishes in the field events, and John Watkins finished second in the triple jump. Meanwhile, Andrew Kent took third in the mile, and two other Tech men also finished in the top five in the event - at a tie for fifth.
Best of the Week
This Week on the Flats
This week, it’s all eyes on Men’s Basketball, to see if they can finish the elusive triumvirate of wins over Kentucky, North Carolina, and Duke, and build off of the momentum of a solid return from their COVID break. However, a RARE TEAM TV APPEARANCE ALERT of men’s golf this week on the Golf Channel as they head to the Southwestern Invite is perhaps the most unique content of the week. Otherwise, catch WBB on Thursday as they look to continue their hot streak against Miami.
Volleyball Schedule Release Misfire
Looking like a ten game slate, one against each of the other ten teams we didn’t play this fall, split evenly between home and away. Interestingly, no non-conference games, though. The post has since been deleted.
Poll of the Week
Preferred Way to Consume Sports
This poll is closed
From the Tailgate