May in Athens (and why we've been MIA)

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First of all, I wanted to take a second to apologize for the severe lack of blog posts to Between the Hedges over the last couple days/weeks. It's been a crazy time around here in the Athletic Department with all the sports either winding down or heating up, but I realize that despite that, this blog was created for the sole purpose of giving Bulldog fans and supporters a glimpse inside the goings-on at the UGAAA, so the lack of posting is not only inexcusable, but a giant missed opportunity.

It really seems like every time you turn around, one of the Georgia teams is doing something great this time of year. Track & Field just got back from the SEC Championships, where they posted the highest combined score in school history. Baseball earned a spot in the SEC Championships in Hoover, Ala., as the Bulldogs play their final home game tonight and their last SEC series this weekend at Alabama. Softball learned it will host an NCAA Regional this weekend. Men's golf is set to play its regional rounds this weekend, while Rocio Sanchez Lobato qualified for the NCAA Championships as an individual on the women's side. 

And then you have tennis. Ah, tennis in Athens in May.

The main reason I've been slacking at writing lately is the fact that we're hosting the 2012 NCAA Men's and Women's Tennis Championships here on campus, starting this Thursday and running through Memorial Day. Without being a math major, you can figure out that that's nearly two weeks of tennis. But I am definitely not complaining, because hosting the tennis tournament is without a doubt one of the highlights of my career (short as it may be) working in sports.

We hosted the tournament last in 2010, my first year at UGA, when I was still a grad assistant and horribly afraid of making a mistake in any area of my job, even more so with 32 tennis teams here competing in their biggest event of the year. I came to find that going through the planning process this year, I blacked out most of what happened in 2010. At the point you're working two weeks of 12+ hour days, it's hard to retain any more information besides that you survived and two teams won.

I think the most special part of the tournament is the fact that UGA has hosted it so many times. This will be the 30th time overall (men's, women's, or both), and as my good friend Coach Dan Magill would say, Georgia is the "mecca of college tennis." Back in the "good old days," Coach Magill made sure UGA had the best tennis facilities in the country so that Georgia would get the chance to host the tournament. Well, it did, and the folks here did such a good job that it kept coming back. Most years, the tournament has been in Athens, and whether you're one of the many who feel like it should be permanently based here, like the College World Series are in Omaha and Oklahoma City, or someone who feels that that would give the Bulldogs an unfair advantage, you have to appreciate the fact that this town turns upside down every third week of May in a hosting year.

Going through this a second time now, I can appreciate the fact that the tournament gets brought back to Athens because of history and tradition and because of Coach Magill, but also because Georgia is good at it. I was talking to our AD for event management Matt Brachowski for a Q&A a couple weeks ago - Matt doubles as the tournament director - and he made me aware of something very interesting. He said that he feels pressure to do a good job so that the tournament is awarded to Athens as a host site again. Thinking of it like that makes it so much easier to get through these crazy times. We all work together to make sure that the fans, media, and especially the participants have a good experience, and that we get the opportunity to host again. The work we do is a reflection on UGA, Athens, and the athletic department, and I don't think that's lost on anyone from the Athletic Director to the ticket takers to the promotions staff to the grounds crew to the ushers. Around here we've all heard stories about folks marking tournament week off in their calendars, that this tournament is truly a part of Athens, and means so much to the people who've been coming for years. We are working for those people. We can't let them down.

So, as I am about to head over to the courts to enter lock-down mode for the rest of May, I encourage you to come out to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, even if it's just for one match or one hour. I promise you'll see right away how special the NCAA Tennis Championships are, and why coaches and players all around the country talk about how much fun they have when they qualify for the round of 16 and get to come play here. 

A full schedule is available right here. You won't be disappointed.


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