Now the lone senior on Georgia Tech’s women’s tennis team, Kilborn has worked her way up to the top singles spot and leading a team primarily made up of underclassmen.
The role is similar to the one she when she was a senior at Walton High School four years ago.
As a Lady Raiders senior, she was on a sophomore-laden team that was in the midst of a 158-match winning streak and had to face the pressures of other experienced teams eager to snap it. Back then, Kilborn was on arguably the strongest Walton team in program history that won most of its matches in less than an hour.
As the No. 1 player with the Yellow Jackets (6-5, 1-2 in the ACC), she’s having to face a new level of competition while encouraging her younger teammates to stay on task.
Kilborn struggled earlier this season at the position but appears to be comfortable now.
Ranked No. 65 in the NCAA, Kilborn is currently on a three-match winning streak. The latest victory was Sunday when she came from behind to beat Florida State’s Daneika Borthwick 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Her win capped a 4-3 Georgia Tech comeback victory over the Seminoles and improved her individual record to 5-5.
“I love the challenge (at No. 1 singles) or I wouldn’t be here playing,” Kilborn said. “You know it’s going to be a battle. You’re playing the best player on their team. It’s fun. You don’t win them all but I love the challenge of it.”
When Kilborn first arrived at Georgia Tech, as a freshman she played No. 5 and No. 6 before she was elevated to No. 2 and No. 3 her junior year. Georgia Tech may had been a hard adjustment for her had it not been for 2008 ITA National Champion and NCAA singles champion Amanda McDowell, who helped her adapt.
Now Kilborn is the one setting the example for her younger teammates.
“Lizzy’s great. She’s a really good leader. She’s so dedicated to tennis and the team,” said freshman Natasha Prokhnevska, who came down to Georgia Tech from Wilmington, N.H. “She’s been a great example just now how she fought through everything (against Florida State). She showed me that all the hard work she put in has paid off and it’s a good example to everyone.”
“She’s so nice and wants to hang out and everything, but when she needs to, she’s like ‘Come on. Get it together. Start studying and start practicing.’”
Kilborn’s win also gave Georgia Tech its first ACC victory of the season after the Yellow Jackets trailed Florida State for most of the match.
Although this was not the first time Kilborn won the deciding point with the match on the line, she had never done it at No. 1 position before.
Afterward, she thanked her freshmen teammates Prokhnevska, Kendal Woodard and Megan Kurey for winning their No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 singles matches.
“It was great to get our first ACC today, especially to come back after losing the doubles point,” Kilborn said. “We haven’t done that yet this year on this team. The freshmen showed they were capable of doing that and it was great for them to come through.”
Against Borthwick, Kilborn knew that all pressure was on her early in her third set when Kurey shook hands a winner to tie the overall match score. With everyone watching her match, Kilborn was on-serve until she broke for a 5-4 lead and successfully served for the match to earn her 80th career win at Georgia Tech.
The match was reminiscent to the one against No. 9-ranked Miami in the ACC tournament quarterfinals last season when she rallied from an early third set deficit to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 at No. 3 singles.
“I love being in that position,” Kilborn said. “I been in it once before when my match was the only match left in the ACCs, but I never had the opportunity to do that at home in front of my fans and family. That was exciting.”
Kilborn plans to graduate in May with a major in biology but still has at least two months left of tennis before she begins making career decisions. She said she’s applying to graduate school with hopes of becoming a physician’s assistant, and she hasn’t ruled out the pipe dream of playing professional tennis.
“Days like this make me not ready to stop playing,” Kilborn said. “At the same time, it’s really competitive out there, but I definitely have not crossed it off my list. I just want to give it my best my senior year and not put in any thoughts to what I want to do next.”