Category archive: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Upsets? Talkin' about an evolution

March, 21, 2010

Over a span of 24 hours when mid-major programs from Burlington, Vt., to Spokane, Wash., emphatically staked their claim to a place at the table in women's basketball, it was left to the coach of one of the programs that fell just short to sum things up.

A No. 14 seed out of the lightly regarded Atlantic Sun, East Tennessee State pushed third-seeded Xavier (itself so much a model of success outside a BCS conference that it's fairly lumped in with the sport's heavyweights) to the wire on the favorite's home court before falling in an up-and-down, fan-friendly 94-82 first-round game.

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 Kim Sitzmann
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKim Sitzmann's season-high 21 points paced UALR past 6-seed Georgia Tech for its first NCAA tourney win.

After 16 years on the job, Lady Bucs coach Karen Kemp sees a landscape changing.

"I won't say it's getting easier, but it's getting less difficult," Kemp said.

What we're talking here isn't revolution but instead evolution.

What began with No. 7 seed Gonzaga's win as the favored seed against 10th-seeded North Carolina on Friday night continued Saturday as 10-seed Vermont beat 7-seed Wisconsin, 12-seed Green Bay beat 5-seed Virginia, 11-seed Arkansas-Little Rock beat 6-seed Georgia Tech and 11-seed San Diego State beat 6-seed Texas.

What happened in the last 24 hours is not record breaking, or even bordering on unique beyond the fact that 12 different conferences have wins, the most since 2003. Just last season, five "mid-majors" -- for our purposes, any team outside the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC -- won first-round games, including a bigger upset from Ball State beating Tennessee than anything witnessed so far this season. And all of the winners thus far this season still have a lot of work to do to become the first mid-major to reach the Sweet 16 since 2008, when George Washington and Old Dominion (a special case, given its history as a one-time national power in women's basketball) both advanced to the Greensboro Regional.

But while upsets have happened in the past, even in quantities more measurable than a trickle, what's happening this season does feel different. Maybe it feels different because the actual upsets have been accompanied by a host of close calls -- Bowling Green against Michigan State, Liberty against Kentucky, Louisiana Tech against Florida State and East Tennessee State against Xavier, among them.

But where upsets have happened in the past, even in quantities more measurable than a trickle, what's happening this season does feel different. Maybe it feels different because the actual upsets have been accompanied by a host of close calls … And maybe because, to some extent, they don't feel much like upsets at all.

And maybe because, to some extent, they don't feel much like upsets at all. Green Bay went more than 12 minutes without a field goal to close out its 69-67 win against Virginia. It didn't have two of its three best players, Celeste Hoewisch and Kayla Tetschlag, on the court at the end of the game after they fouled out. The Phoenix hardly played a perfect game. But they were still good enough to beat the Cavaliers, imperfections and all, just as they beat NCAA tournament teams Wisconsin and DePaul during the regular season.

Nobody expects Green Bay or San Diego State to give Connecticut or Stanford a game. Then again, few expect Rutgers or UCLA to give those teams much of a run, either. The best team might be as far ahead of the pack as it ever has been, and Tennessee and Stanford might still be protected from the masses by a buffer zone.

But as the overall talent pool increases, the difference between team No. 4 and team No. 50 grows increasingly more minuscule, even if all the attention given Connecticut, Brittney Griner and the top of the heap makes it tough for anyone to take notice.

Even Nebraska, the fourth No. 1 seed, is evidence of that. The Huskers might have just one loss, but the Big 12 preseason poll, in which they were picked sixth, is evidence they're here not by birthright.

"You look at the closeness of all of the low seed games so far, outside of the bottom versus the top, the middle has certainly got closer --- the last three years," said Xavier assistant Mike Neighbors, who has seen all sides on staffs at Arkansas, Colorado and Tulsa. "I think it's been three years. And I don't know why, but it's been that way."

And there's no reason to think it's temporary.

Green Bay's and Arkansas-Little Rock's wins are perhaps the most significant of all the mid-major successes this year. Both were earned by teams that received at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, the first ever awarded to a team from the Horizon League in Green Bay's case.

The selection committee isn't going to say a league's past performance has weight in considering the merits of a bubble team in any particular year, but it's difficult to come up with an argument that following up at-large bids with wins hurts a league's chances in the future. Perception is inescapable, whether it operates at the conscious or subconscious level.

What happened in the last 24 hours isn't revolutionary, which is exactly why it's part of a permanent change in the landscape of women's basketball.

With the season's opening games less than two weeks away, it's time to take a quick tour -- two by two this year -- through some of the best teams out there.

No. 9 Stanford

It's not easy to fly under the radar as a freshman at Stanford. Last year brought the collegiate debut of Ashley Hansen, the only high schooler invited to the Team USA selection camp in 2008. That might seem like hard hype to top, but Kelsey and Teagan Gerhart, two of Toby's little sisters, will keep the family name alive and well as older brother moves on to the NFL.

Teagan, in particular, holds special interest as a pitcher for a team with two of the best all-around players in the sport in Hansen and Alissa Haber and returning starters at a total of seven positions -- but which must replace Missy Penna in the circle. It's also worth noting that as long a shadow as Penna cast, junior Ashley Chinn would likely move into fifth all time in strikeouts at Stanford just by duplicating her first two seasons -- and she's likely to pitch significantly more than that.

No. 10 Georgia Tech

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Jen Yee
Jerry Pillarelli/Georgia Tech AthleticsExpect a big season from Georgia Tech second baseman Jen Yee.

Like any upwardly mobile program looking to prove its staying power among the sport's elite, Georgia Tech must show it can replace the attrition of graduation without skipping a beat. Gone from the team that reached the program's first super regional are Whitney Haller, the ACC's all-time RBIs leader, as well as key contributors Tiffany Johnson and Blair Shimandle.

But not every lineup change from the final game a season ago against Washington is a potential problem. If the Yellow Jackets enter this season with some question marks, one of them must come as the punctuation to asking if there is a better middle infield anywhere in the country.

Absent during last season's NCAA tournament, Kelsi Weseman is ready to rejoin second baseman Jen Yee in the heart of the order and the middle of the diamond.

Weseman didn't play in the super regional against Washington or in the regional the Yellow Jackets won after she broke her arm in the seventh inning of the ACC title game against Florida State. Those games notwithstanding. she ranked third in the ACC in batting average, fourth in slugging percentage and second in on-base percentage (trailing Yee in all three categories).

Only three freshmen nationally posted better slugging percentages: Northwestern's Adrienne Monka, New Mexico State's Tiare Jennings and Radford's Leigh Godfrey.

"She's a hard worker," Perkins said of the soft-spoken sophomore. "She came a long way on range and her arm strength and even with her bat. I mean, I didn't know she was going to be on fire with her bat. She grew up playing baseball, and usually kids that payed baseball at a young age, they end up being successful hitting for softball. ... But I didn't know she'd be that great. I thought she'd be solid for us on defense, and that's what we needed. We wanted her to come in there and play for four years, and lucky for us, I think that's what is going to happen. But you don't really see that she is going to have that much success. We play a tough schedule; we play a competitive schedule. And to have her succeed is pretty awesome."

Georgia Tech has plenty of familiar faces from its national exposure in super regionals, including standouts Yee, pitcher and third baseman Kristen Adkins and outfielder Christy Jones. It also adds some new faces of note, including freshman pitcher Hope Rush and Florida transfer Kristine Priebe. But if Weseman, who resumed defensive work in the fall and hitting this winter, comes through again, it will be one very big answer.

"I think people, since she was a freshman, they kept just trying to take their chances with her and not with [Yee and Haller]," Perkins said. "So it will be interesting to see what happens this year. I think some people will pitch around her and maybe try to find a weakness this year, but I know she's also been working really hard on maybe some things she struggled with last year."

Graham Hays covers softball for E-mail him at