May 18, 2014
By Luke Dixon
Athens, Ga.--Kate Fuller, Lilly Kimbell and Maho Kowase have become each other's second family during their four years together on the Georgia women's tennis squad.
The threesome arrived in Athens in the fall of 2010. In the ensuing four seasons, the team compiled a 91-19 team record. The 2014 seniors have also made it to the NCAA quarterfinals every year of their Bulldog careers, including this year.
In their quarterfinal matchup Saturday, Georgia fell to Florida by a 4-1 final.
"It's hard to put in a few words, but Lilly, Maho and I have had an absolute blast being a part of this team together," Fuller said. "We've treasured every moment as a Georgia Bulldog."
Individually, the three seniors have each compiled 85-plus singles wins, 100-plus doubles wins and nine All-Southeastern Conference first and second team selections among them.
During their sophomore season, Kimbell and Kowase partnered in doubles and recorded a school-record 21 victories in a row. The final victory came against third-seeded Duke in the NCAA quarterfinals, which Kimbell said was her favorite memory from that season.
Fuller earned All-American honors her freshman and junior years and, along with current sophomore Silvia Garcia, set a single season record for doubles wins with 40 during the 2013 season.
"We were kind of talking about memories recently and there's just so many awesome dual matches that we've been a part of together and all of us have shared," Fuller said. "It's really special. I couldn't have asked to spend my four years with a better class and just really proud of these girls. I love them like my family."
Kimbell was All-SEC tournament team in 2012 and 2014, the only member of the senior class to achieve all-tournament team status twice during her career.
Kowase has earned All-SEC first team all four years as a Bulldog and made All-American this year as a senior. She is also Georgia's all-time winningest player. She had 242 singles and doubles victories combined after the Bulldogs' Sweet 16 victory over Southern California on Thursday.
In their junior year, the Bulldogs made it to their third consecutive NCAA round of 16. They had to come from behind against Clemson after dropping just their third doubles point that season. Kowase clinched the 4-2 victory in dramatic fashion.
"Last year, at NCAAs, Maho was on the court playing against Clemson and when she clinched that (win), that was amazing," Kimbell said.
Head coach Jeff Wallace was like a second dad to them, according to Fuller.
"He's always looking out for us and the team, the best interest of the team, and the program as a whole," Fuller said. "Individually, he wants you to be the best that you can be and to be winning out there and to be successful. He's meant so much and helped me develop my game and Lilly develop her game and Maho develop hers as well."
Kimbell said she's had the best experience she could have asked for playing for Wallace.
"He's meant so much," Kimbell said. "I've grown as a person and he's really helped me grow as a player. What he's done with this program, clearly he's one of the greatest coaches there is."
Wallace offered nothing but praise for his graduating class after their final match.
"What they've done for this program over the past four years has just been remarkable, and I'm super proud of them," Wallace said. "This isn't the way they wanted to go out, but we certainly have to mention how amazing their careers have been."
Dixon is a student in Grady Sports Media, a program at the UGA's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.