ATHENS — Georgia women’s tennis coach Jeff Wallace and his players are imploring fans to come to the Dan Magill Tennis Complex to root them on against Michigan in the first NCAA Super Regional ever held on UGA’s campus. But you might want to go just to get one last look at the Bulldogs’ historic venue that has played host to hundreds of matches, including 32 NCAA Championships.
Henry Feild Stadium, whose painted wooden bleachers have surrounded the courts 1977, will be torn down soon after Saturday’s match ends. Georgia has approved an $8.5 million construction project in which those stands will be ripped out and new ones will be built along with restrooms, concession stands and other amenities needed to bring the facility up to code.
“Mobilization will begin right after play ends,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity confirmed Friday.
But first things first. The Bulldogs (25-1) would like to first see those bleachers completely filled and send them to them to the scrapyard on a winning note.
This 2019 Georgia team already has shown itself to be one of the best in the program’s storied history. It’s only slip-up this season came with a 4-3 loss to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament finals. But the Bulldogs otherwise have been dominant throughout, claiming the doubles point in 21 of 25 dual matches and winning 14 of their outdoor matches 4-0, including Alabama State and Wake Forest in the first two rounds of NCAA tournament play.
This year happens to be the first one in which the NCAA is employing the Super Regional format it has long utilized in baseball and softball. By virtue its No. 1 seed, Georgia was chosen as one of the eight sites to host a Round of 16 match. Today’s winner will advance to Orlando for the final three rounds, plus the individual and doubles championships, on the U.S. Tennis Association’s National Campus.
“It’s a great new format,” Wallace said. “This match would be at the final site in year’s past, so this gives us one more match here at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex and we’re thrilled about that.”
It’s at least partially due to those rickety old wooden grandstands that Georgia currently is not hosting the NCAA Tennis Championships. Thanks to the vision and task-mastery of the late Dan Magill, the Bulldogs’ tennis facilities have long been regarded as the best in America. His efforts resulted in Georgia hosting the men’s NCAA Championships a total of 24 times, the women’s championships three times and both genders five times, most recently in 2017.
But Georgia was passed over in the last bidding process as a semi-annual host for the first time since the 1970s. The NCAA chose instead the USTA’s expansive new facility in Lake Nona, where it will be played this year and in 2021, with stops on the campuses of Oklahoma State and Illinois in between. The championships were played at Wake Forest last year.
Aging facilities plus having only four indoor courts to utilize contributed to UGA being bypassed. The soonest the championship tournament could return would be 2023. By then, the Bulldogs will have a new tennis grandstand and — they hope — six brand-new indoor tennis courts.
Georgia is in process of trying to raise of half of the funds from donors for what’s expected to be a project that could cost $26 million in total. Some of those monies are coming in via a brick donation campaign for the new complex.
Six of Georgia’s eight national championships in men’s and women’s tennis have been won on its home courts. The Lady Dogs are hoping they get to take advantage that decided home-court advantage one more time. They’ll need it against a tough Michigan squad (20-5) that was undefeated in Big Ten play.
“Having all those fans here definitely helps us,” said sophomore Vivian Wolff, who is 22-1 and clinched four matches on Court 4 at the complex this season. “It makes the opposing team overcome another challenge — dealing with Georgia Bulldogs fans.”
Said Wallace: “It’s the last opportunity for people to come and sit in these grandstands before they get redone. We’re thrilled about what it’s going to look like this time next year, but there’s a lot of tradition and history out there. We’re just really hopeful a ton of people will come out and support this team and support this program.”