Jeff Wallace is the winningest active women’s tennis coach in the country.
He has been the head coach of the Georgia women’s squad since graduating from the university in 1985 and is the winner of two national championships.
And now he’s two wins away from his 600th.
“Are you trying to tell me I’m old?” Wallace joked on Wednesday.
Wallace’s squad is ranked third in the country heading into its last home stand — a match today against No. 59 LSU and a match Sunday against No. 50 Arkansas.
“I just want this team to have the year we’re having and for that to continue,” Wallace said. “That’s what it’s really about. It’s about this group.”
Georgia (15-2, 8-1 Southeastern Conference) went on a road trip last weekend that included stops at Missouri and Texas A&M. The Aggies were ranked third nationally until the Lady Bulldogs knocked them off in perhaps Georgia’s toughest match of the season.
The Lady Bulldogs withstood a three-hour weather delay, and freshman Mia King capped the 4-2 victory with the clinch on court three in a three-set match.
It also gave Wallace a chance to earn his 600th win at home on Sunday.
“It was probably one of my most memorable matches thus far. There was so much emotion going on,” junior Kate Fuller said. “Whenever it’s a big match like that, the calls are gonna be tight, it’s gonna be a little big more dramatic. So it was, even from the first point of doubles and through the last point of singles.”
Sophomore Lauren Herring said winning that close match on the road provided the team with a confidence boost and made the country’s top teams pay more attention to Georgia.
The Lady Bulldogs began the season at No. 12, and dropped during the indoor season despite winning close matches. But they have been on the upswing since the beginning of the outdoor season, clawing their way into the top three.
“I just think that they’re just a hard-working group that wants to excel and do as good as they possibly can do. I guess that could be translated, to a certain extent, as a chip on their shoulder because we did start at 12 and now we’re up to three,” Wallace said.
“I think that they’re reaping the benefits of the hard work that they’ve put it.”
With the SEC regular season title in reach, Wallace said his team knows the importance of earning two conference wins this weekend — not to mention that key victory milestone for the coach.
“It’s really important, especially with Jeff’s 600th match win coming up,” junior Maho Mowase said. “Every single SEC match counts as the same. We just need to take care of business every single match.”
Wallace, who notched his 500th career win during the 2008 season, said his players are “drooling at the mouth” to win a conference title, both regular season and tournament, and make some noise in the NCAA tournament.
Though Wallace is more focused on the conference wins, the players said they want to get the win for their coach on their home courts.
“It’s really awesome to be a part of that milestone for him. … It really just goes to show what a successful career he’s had as a coach and he knows college tennis like the back of his hand,” Fuller said. “We’re proud of him and we’re just excited about being with him as we win that match.”
And not to get too far ahead of themselves, but the players may already have some celebration plans in the works for their coach.
Gatorade bath? Water cooler dousing? They’re a little tight-lipped on what will be in the cooler.
“Well, you’ll see,” Herring said with a laugh.
—Rachel G. Bowers is assistant sports editor for onlineathens.com. Follow her on Twitter.