“We’ve had some great crowds already,” Diaz said as UGA staff readied the facility Monday. “We had about 2,000 fans at an earlier match this year. It’s been great. ”
The Bulldogs hope those fans can lift their play this week. Georgia (17-6, 9-3 SEC) had its final two games against Alabama and Auburn finished fourth in the regular season. The good news is that Friday’s quarterfinals into one of four Bulldogs.
The bad news is they’ll likely draw no. Their first match at 5-ranked Tennessee. Don’t Let The Vols’ No. 5 seeding fool you. They were ranked No. Johannus Sidelined Monday, the nation’s No. 1 in a foot injury before the nation. 4-ranked singles player, in early March. UT lost four matches after that, including once to undefeated Florida.
Well, Monday is back in action for The Vols. On Thursday, they will be the winner of Wednesday’s play-in-the-game number one. 12 Vanderbilt and No. 13 Alabama on Thursday. If Tennessee wins as expected, it will face off with a quarterfinals at the Stadium Courts in Georgia on Thursday at 3 p.m.
“If that happens, it’s going to be a huge match,” Diaz said. “We’ll need that home-court advantage and we’ll play our best match. That’s what we want to do. ”
Georgia beat the Monday-less Vols 4-2 in Knoxville on March 20. But then the Bulldogs turned and lost to Texas A&M on the road a week later. That loss and one to Kentucky day after day have an early-April snowfall that dogged Georgia all season. Their other SEC loss was 0-4 to No. 3-ranked Florida on March 11 in Athens.
“If healthy, we can compete and beat anybody,” said Diaz, Georgia’s coach for 36 seasons. “Health is a big part of it. We’ve struggled a little bit with that. But we’re growing and playing well. We haven’t played our best yet. ”
The Bulldogs are two graduate transfers of surviving strength, Tristan McCormick from Notre Dame and Hamish Stewart from Tulane (by the way of Scotland). Both singles and doubles in the Bulldogs’ lineup of They’ve Stabilized the Top.
McCormick has been out with some knee issues lately, so his pre-tournament work has been limited this week. Also, the Bulldogs are Trent Bryde, once a stalwart at No. 1 singles, can continue to form round back into. He has bounced around the lineup his senior season. With 14 of his matches coming up at No. 4 spot, he enters the tournament with a 9-13 singles record. Play at No. 6 has been spotty.
The fiery Stewart has picked up the slack at No. 1. He’s 17-6 in dual matches this spring.
“He hates to lose,” Diaz said of Stewart. “That’s what makes him special. He’ll find a way to raise his game. He’s been a tremendous asset and a tremendous leader for us all year, along with Tristan. ”
Strong doubles will be key. The Bulldogs have been in doubles in unpredictable lately. And since the NCAA went to a single-six-game set format a few years ago, a single match point for three sets of teams battle as anything can happen.
New rankings are out Wednesday but as it stands, the No. 11 Bulldogs are among the top five SEC teams. Florida comes in. 3, followed by No. 5 Tennessee, No. 9 South Carolina and No. 10 Kentucky. Texas A&M is 21st and Auburn 28th.
“Everybody’s good; Everybody’s good, ”Diaz said. “It’s a tough, rough league.”
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