#STINGDAILY: Digging In

March 31, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Rodney Harmon was bleary eyed late Sunday afternoon, looking a bit worn even though he didn’t play.

The Georgia Tech women’s tennis team finished off a busy and successful week and month with a 4-0 wipeout of Maryland, and while the Terrapins didn’t offer much resistance the Yellow Jackets were gassed.

So was their coach. Everybody’s off today, in fact. They need a break.

The 33rd-ranked Jackets (9-6, 3-2 ACC) didn’t play so well in Saturday’s 4-3 win over Boston College (7-5, 1-4 after a 6-1 loss Sunday at Clemson).

Yet digging in for three matches in five days – with the first being Wednesday’s 4-3 win over No. 11 Northwestern and the latter two against conference foes – was work.

“We were able to win two 4-3 squeakers, and you can’t have that many high-level emotional squeakers in a row,” said the Tech coach.

A good walkover helps.

Maryland (5-10, 0-5) was thin Sunday, but Tech freshmen Megan Kurey and Kendal Woodard provided a highlight nonetheless because their 8-1 win at No. 1 doubles pushed them to 17-5, 13-2 in dual play and 4-1 in the ACC.

Even with three freshmen making up 50 percent of the roster as Alex Anghelescu’s recent foot surgery is likely to sideline her for the season and leave the Jackets with the minimum six players, Tech looks to be in a good place after closing March at 6-2.

The Jackets’ losses were to No. 9 Miami and No. 16 Notre Dame.

Interestingly, Northwestern beat Notre Dame, and then the Jackets played exquisitely Wednesday in beating the Wildcats 4-3. Tech also beat Florida State a couple weeks ago, and the Seminoles beat Miami.

Kurey closed out the Northwestern match with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 win at No. 4 singles – after the Jackets had lost the doubles point to begin. That entire match was a gut check.

Maybe the first-year Tech coach should have expected a letdown against B.C. Saturday.

As senior captain Elizabeth Kilborn said, “Obviously, we’re a young team and we’re trying to tell the girls it’s not about the name of the school we’re playing, or whether they’re ranked or not . . . you come along to a weekend like this where we’re expected to win both matches, and you think it’s just going to fall in our laps.”

Coming off the Northwestern match, for which the Ken Byers Tennis Complex was wired with wall-to-wall adrenaline, a sag may have been predictable.

“I think the Northwestern match took a lot out of us emotionally,” Harmon said. “They have a great team, a great coach, they historically are a Top 10 team, and it’s a battle. They had lost to Georgia Tech last year in a tight match in Chicago so they didn’t want to lose, and they had just come off a very close 4-3 loss to North Carolina.”

College tennis may not be a contact sport, but the environment sure isn’t anything like the sedate juniors tennis these student-athletes played before. Under many circumstances – especially now that the Byers Complex has come on-line to give Tech a facility to rival the best – emotions often are amplified.

“We lost the doubles point [to Northwestern, it was close . . . but it was a bit acrimonious on 5,” Harmon said. “The crowd got involved, and I had to go into the stands to speak to a policeman. There was a lot going on, a lot of cheering, and on court there was a lot of screaming back and forth.”

The Jackets trailed Northwestern 3-1 before freshman Natasha Prokhnevska won 6-4, 7-6 over Alicia Barnett at No. 3 singles, and Muriel Wacker evened the match at No. 5 singles with a 7-6, 6-4 win over Brittany Wowchuk.

That left it to Kurey to win it, and she did, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 over NU’s Linda Abu Mushrefova at No. 4 singles.

It was a big win, possibly the biggest yet for Harmon, although the Jackets’ 4-3 win over Florida State a couple weeks ago would be in the conversation.

So this weekend paled in comparison by way of tension and passion, although the coach was much happier with the way the Jackets performed Sunday in dispatching Maryland.

“[Saturday], we didn’t perform as well as I would have liked, but . . . today, we came out with better energy in doubles and we were able to carry that into singles as well,” he said. “We’ll be able to take a little time off before our big weekend against North Carolina and Duke on Tobacco Road.”

Indeed. The Jackets will play Friday and Saturday at No. 1 North Carolina and No. 7 Duke.

Tech figures to be up for both matches. Against Boston College, not so much. But hey, it was a lesson learned and not the hard way.

“Two years ago, Maryland came in and beat us 4-3,” Kilborn said. “You’ve got to be ready to play. We had a 4-3 match with NW and with Boston College, and it just shows that a few things separate these teams and you’ve got to take care of what you can control. We got out with a W, and we were fortunate.”

More to come in a few days on Tech’s fine trio of freshmen with a little bit more about one of the nation’s top recruiting classes that will arrive this summer. Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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