Alcorn women take aim at mighty Georgia Tech|[05/08/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 8, 2008

When it comes to his team’s place on the national scene, Alcorn State coach Tony Dodgen is both modest and brutally honest.

“The nature of the beast is the top 16 host. One through 16 draw from the bottom of the barrel, and unfortunately we have not made it out of the bottom yet,” Dodgen said with a laugh as he sized up the Lady Braves’ chances in the NCAA Tournament. “If we could win one singles match or anything like that, it’d be a big plus. We’re not going to embarrass ourselves by any means.”

While Dodgen may sound pessimistic, it’s simply reality. Alcorn has done well over the last decade in its small slice of the college tennis world, winning three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships since 2000. This weekend, however, they’ll step up to a different level.

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Alcorn opens the NCAA Tournament Friday morning in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. The same Georgia Tech that won last year’s national championship. The same one that is seeded third for this year’s tournament. For an Alcorn team that hasn’t faced an opponent ranked in the top 60 this season, coming away with a victory will be a difficult – if not impossible – task.

“The top 20 teams are actually monsters. It’s a new league when you play them. It’s different,” Dodgen said. “In college tennis, there’s really four distinct levels. We’re at the top of the fourth level.”

Alcorn got there by winning the SWAC Tournament in dramatic fashion on April 21. The Lady Braves fell behind 3-0 in the championship match against Southern, but rallied to win 4-3. The match lasted nearly six hours, and gave Alcorn its first SWAC title since 2001 after a string of disappointing finishes. Alcorn reached the finals three straight times from 2002-04, and the semifinals in 2006 and 2007.

Dodgen said being back on top of the SWAC mountain was a nice feeling.

“We have people calling us saying, ‘It’s about time,'” he said. “It was a huge relief. I would’ve been in a bad state of mind if this group of girls had gotten out of here without a conference championship ring.”

Winning on the national stage might take a while longer, but isn’t an unrealistic goal. While this year’s matchup doesn’t bode well for Alcorn, Dodgen believes the program is headed in the right direction.

“That’s a large objective of ours is to win the conference every year. Our long range goal is to get a national ranking,” Dodgen said. “We’ve satisifed the conference goal.”