#STINGDAILY: Different Strokes

Aug 26, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Practice won’t start officially for nearly two more weeks, but Rodney Harmon worked himself up nearly to warp speed Monday just talking about what’s on the way for Georgia Tech women’s tennis.

With a full year behind him, the Yellow Jackets’ coach now not only knows his way around The Flats, but he knows his players, too. That’s saying something.

Harmon by now is quite familiar with sophomores Kendal Woodard, Megan Kurey and Natasha Prokhnevska, and senior Muriel Wacker. And it seems like he’s known Tech’s three newcomers – or their personal coaches – all along.

“I was getting to know them, getting to know their games. It was new for everybody,” Harmon said of last season, which ended with the Jackets making their 14th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. “The players coming in, I recruited them all. I know them and their games.

“We feel we have a different team from last year, a more athletic team. I hope you’ll see an appreciable jump in our ranking this year.”

Tech’s early recruiting class of Rasheeda McAdoo (ranked No. 6 nationally at the time) and Alexa Anton-Ohlmeyer (No. 13) was ranked No. 11 in the nation by Tennis Recruiting Network. That was before South African Natasha Fourouclas decided last month to play for the Jackets.

Having come last summer from south Florida, where he coached most recently with the USTA, Harmon worked for years with McAdoo.

The daughter of the former Tar Heel and NBA great (who’s now an assistant coach with the Miami Heat) might have seemed a bet to follow in her father’s footsteps and go to North Carolina.

She’s at Tech, though, in completing something of a switcharoo. McAdoo was a basketball All-America at UNC, but his daughter ended up at Tech. A year earlier, the tennis-playing daughter of former Tech basketball All-American Mark Price ended up at UNC.

Take a deep breath, coach . . .

Now, go:

“Rasheeda is a tremendous athlete . . . a great competitor. Her game is probably as technically clean as anybody’s. She hits the ball cleanly from everywhere. We’re trying to work on some patterns of play with her,” Harmond said.

“She has a really big serve. She and Kendal both serve probably110-12 mph, maybe 115. She’s going to have her freshman moments, but she really can hit it hard and hit it clean. I think she’s the best athlete in college tennis with her combination of strength, size and quickness. She works really, really hard, and wants to be great badly.”

So there’s that.

Woodard and Kurey last fall and spring as freshmen formed one of the top doubles tandems in the nation and recently won a couple ITA summer tournaments together. Wacker and Prokhnevska know their ways around, too.

Harmon and Tech assistant Alison Silverio were kind of caught by surprise by Anton-Ohlmeyer when they saw her in a clay court tournament last year in Memphis. One thing led to another, and the fast rising daughter of an LPGA pro and the executive producer of the NFL Network made her way from Mission Viejo, Calif., to Atlanta.

“She reminds me of [pitcher] Tim Lincecum of the Giants because he’s a little guy who throws hard. She’s medium height, about 5-5 or 5-6, but she’s got the livest arm you’ve ever seen,” Harmon said. “The ball just explodes off the racket.

“You’re either born with that or your not; you either have that elasticity in your arm or you don’t. She doesn’t swing that hard; it’s just timing. You see this little blond-haired girl, and think she’s probably very steady and then all the sudden, Ka-Pow! She plays as if she’s much bigger, and clean.”

Fourouclas comes from Johannesburg, and has represented South Africa in the Federation Cup. She’s been ranked as high as no. 474 in the world by the ITF, and in less than two weeks on campus has made an impression.

“Besides being very skilled, she is the engine that drives this crew. Her work ethic is off the charts. She is the one that is constantly on the court, and getting the girls to want extra work,” the coach said. “She wears me out.

“She really wants to have a pro career after college. She’s working on certain aspects of her game as well as spending a lot of time in the gym. In South Africa, they didn’t do that. I think that’s going to make a big difference in her game. She’s a big, strong girl . . . about 6-feet tall, but she’s got to get stronger.”

Harmon brought multiple connections to bear in recruiting.

“Alexa, her coach, Chris Lewis, I’ve known him for years,” he said. “And I’ve known Natasha’s coach for years.”

Tech also goes a long way in selling itself to recruits, especially now that the Ken Byers Tennis Complex is up and running. Harmon also believes that the fact professionals are beginning to pass through the facility more frequently in order to practice, the airport, and the school’s academic reputation all make Tech attractive.

Shoot, Elton John even swings by to hit once in a while.

“It’s a very different place” Harmon said. “The striving for excellence . . . is pretty amazing. The kids are just very, very bright here and they love the school. They have such a succession of people who are so bright. I think a lot of the girls really value a great education, and this place . . . it’s great.”

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