ATHENS — A family reunion broke out on center court at Henry Feild Stadium late Friday night.
The No. 3-ranked Georgia women’s tennis team had to weather a rain delay and a heroic effort in singles from visiting Oklahoma in an NCAA Super Regional match at the Dan Magill Complex. But as the Lady Bulldogs have done oh so many times before for Jeff Wallace, they bore down, pushed through and handed their legendary coach another victory.
This one was career No. 817 for Wallace, by the way, the most by an active coach in collegiate tennis and second most in history. But it was the last win for Wallace on Georgia’s storied tennis courts.
Hence, the reunion. Following the 4-1 victory that was dramatically clinched by Dasha Vidmanova on Court 2, the team gathered for a brief celebratory mosh in front of the grandstands. That was followed closely by Wallace’s entire family swooping in for a flurry of hugs and kisses.
Dressed festively, as though they were attending an outdoor church service, Wallace was embraced one after another by his wife, Sabina; daughter, Brittany Sjogren; son, Jarryd Wallace; son-in-law, Chris Sjogren; daughter-in-law, Lea Wallace; and grandchildren Collin and Hazel Sjogren and Levi and Colton Wallace.
Unsurprisingly, it left Wallace teary-eyed and retrospective.
“Super emotional. Unbelievable. At the very end, there were a few tears,” Wallace said after being presented a framed, historic map of Athens by Athletic Director Josh Brooks. “It was a very special day with a very special team. What an amazing job they did. And the whole family’s here. Everybody. It was awesome.”
Wallace will move on with the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (25-4) to the championship rounds in Orlando, Florida, for an Elite Eight matchup Wednesday against the winner of Michigan-Virginia. The fifth-seeded Wolverines and No. 12 Cavaliers were facing off Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Regardless of what happens then, Wallace never again will don his trademark Georgia sun hat and coach a tennis team in the facility he had so much to do with making what it is today.
“Any time you can play a match here at Georgia in front of these amazing fans at this incredible school and in this incredible community, it’s special,” Wallace said. “I’ve been so blessed to do it as long as I have. To go out with a win here at home in my last match was really fun.”
Credit: Chip Towers
Credit: Chip Towers
UGA had promoted Friday’s match – and Saturday’s men’s tilt between No. 6 Georgia and Harvard – as “Fill Magill” in hopes of packing the place where many of the two program’s national championships were secured. A short but intense rain shower chased away all but the most fervent fans only three games into the first set of doubles play. Beer sold in the cover of the new $8.5 million grandstands helped sustain some of the 817 in attendance for a 90-minute delay that included grounds staff as well as volunteers using squeegees to dry the courts.
When play resumed, the Bulldogs quickly zipped through the Sooners to secure the doubles point with 6-1 and 6-3 wins from the Nos. 2 and 1 teams, respectively.
But Oklahoma quickly got the hosts’ attention when 50th-ranked Layne Sleeth upset Georgia’s No. 3-ranked Lea Ma 6-3, 6-0 at No. 1 singles. The Sooners pushed matches at Nos. 3 and 4 into third sets, one of which was locked up in a tiebreak.
But Georgia’s GiGi Grant made quick work of her opponent in No. 6 singles, and senior Meg Kowalski remained her dependable self by securing a hard-fought, three-set point at No. 5.
But it was Vidmanova, who had to win the first set in a 7-5 tiebreaker after first jumping to a 5-1 lead, who clinched the team’s Sweet Sixteen victory 6-4 in the second set.
“I knew that this was a big match and that I had to fight no matter what,” said Vidmanova, a sophomore from the Czech Republic. “… I actually didn’t expect to clinch. I expected other people to clinch, but I had the chance and did it, which was great.”
With a runner-up finish at the National Indoors and an SEC Tournament championship already under their belts in 2023, the Bulldogs are considered one of the primary threats to win it all in Orlando. So, while Wallace was reveling in the moment and overwhelmed with emotion Friday, he wasn’t planning to remain reflective long.
“Honestly, I’m really thinking about this next match that we’ve got to go play in Orlando and the rest of this tournament,” said Wallace, who has led the Bulldogs to six national championships, including two outdoor titles. “Right now, that’s where my focus has to be. And then, at some point, I’ll look back.”
No. 3 Georgia 4, No. 12 Oklahoma 1
Dasha Vidmanova/Mell Reasco (UGA) vs. #5 Carmen Corley/Ivana Corley (OU), 5-4, unfinished
#25 Guillermina Grant/Mai Nirundorn (UGA) def. #63 Layne Sleeth/Alexandra Pisareva (OU), 6-1
Meg Kowalski/Lea Ma (UGA) def. Julia Garcia Ruiz/Dana Guzman (OU), 6-3
Order of Finish: (2,3)
#50 Layne Sleeth (OU) def. #3 Lea Ma (UGA), 6-3, 6-0
#4 Dasha Vidmanova (UGA) def. #78 Dana Guzman (OU), 7-6 (5), 6-4
#63 Mell Reasco (UGA) vs. #110 Carmen Corley (OU), 6-3, 1-6, 6-6 (6-3), unfinished
#81 Anastasia Lopata (UGA) vs. Alexandra Pisareva (OU), 3-6, 6-3, 4-3, unfinished
#125 Meg Kowalski (UGA) def. Julia Garcia Ruiz (OU), 6-7 (8), 6-1, 6-1
Gigi Grant (UGA) def. Emma Staker (OU), 6-0, 6-4
Order of Finish: (6,1,5,2)
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