TGW: Big Bad Johnnise

April 15, 2016

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

Johnnise Renaud knows there is no getting anything past mom.

Georgia Tech women’s tennis’ sophomore sensation doesn’t even try.

Her mom, Pamela Coney, is not only impossible to sneak something by, she even breaks news — like her daughter’s winning ACC Co-Player of the Week a couple of weeks back.

“I didn’t even know until my mom texted me and [Coach] Rodney [Harmon] texted me a few minutes later,” she recalled with a laugh. “I was not surprised at all. She is the first person to tell me about everything. I can be on the court and she’s texting me throughout my whole match. She’s the first person I go to about anything.

“She’s always on the ball,” she added. “She tells me, ‘Okay, rankings are coming out next Tuesday.’ Then right when the rankings come out I can’t even log on to the site before she tells me. I actually like that about her. It makes it fun.”

Of course, no one, not even Ms. Coney, had to tell Johnnise about the magnitude of this weekend, when the No. 16 Yellow Jackets conclude their regular season with matches at the Byers Tennis Complex, beginning Friday at 3 p.m. against No. 8 Duke then Sunday at noon against No. 2 North Carolina, on Senior Day.

“It’s really exciting going in to play Duke and UNC in our last home games then going into ACCs,” said Renaud. “I’m pretty excited and pretty confident. I know the girls will try their hardest.

“[Being at home] makes a huge difference — the crowd and even getting used to the court, because they’re probably not used to our slower-paced court,” she added. “So we do have an advantage going into the match already. I think we’ll be able to pounce on that opportunity and do a good job.”

The Jackets have a great job of late, having won nine of their last ten matches — the only loss along the way a 4-3 loss at No. 31 Virginia Tech on April 1 — with six of the matches coming against top-50 programs and another at No. 60 Florida State.

Renaud has played a key role in the team’s success, as she is 20-10 in singles matches (13-6 in dual matches, 7-4 in ACC play), including 8-6 playing at No. 1 in singles, and is 20-4 (14-3 in duals, 7-1 vs the ACC) at No. 2 doubles with partner and childhood friend Rasheeda McAdoo. Combine Renaud-McAdoo’s 6-1 record (three matches unfinished) over the Tech’s current streak with No. 1 team Kendal Woodard and Paige Hourigan’s 10-0 record and it’s clear why Tech has dominated the doubles point, having won 15 times this year — they’re 14-1 in such matches.

Even with this success in the powerful ACC, the team is anything but satisfied.

“I still feel like we can improve in a lot of different places,” she said. “We want play well with these two matches, so we go into ACCs with good momentum and great confidence like we did last year. I feel like that being in such a tough conference you get such great match play that you have to play your best tennis going into every single match. You’re pushed to your maximum limit so if you have one off-day anything can happen.”

Good things have been happening for Johnnise in her second college season, again playing primarily at No. 1 singles. She’s 8-6 in the top spot, 5-0 at No. 2 and 7-8 vs. nationally ranked opponents after going 10-11, 2-2 and 1-9 as a freshman and earning All-ACC Second Team honors.

“At first it was a little bit of pressure going in,” admitted Renaud, who has never played lower than No. 2 since arriving on The Flats. “You’re expected to play a certain level coming in from Juniors and even though you’re playing some of the best athletes and some of the best tennis players in the ACC and in college tennis, playing No. 1 and 2 you’re being pushed. I felt that even though it was a lot of pressure I still was able to handle the challenges at hand. Going into my sophomore year I felt that I was a little bit more comfortable and I saw the girls and knew how they played so I was able to mesh with the team and get everything rolling. I’ve felt a lot more confident playing 1 and 2 this year than I did last year.”

Renaud hopes that confidence will lead to getting a measure of revenge this weekend, when she takes on Duke’s Beatrice Capra and North Carolina’s Hayley Carter, the Nos. 30 and No. 1 singles players according to the ITA Rankings. Renaud, who ranks 34th, went 0-2 as a freshman against Capra, then a junior, and 0-1 vs. Carter, a sophomore, (she also was 0-1 in doubles with McAdoo against Capra, although the duo beat Duke, sans Capra, in the ACC Tournament). She welcomes the challenge of facing the No. 1s again, this time on her home turf — she played both Duke and UNC on the road and met Duke a second time on a neutral site, in Cary, N.C.

“It’s actually a very fun rivalry,” she said. “Hopefully at home I can get her this time. The same with Hayley. We had a really good match indoors when we played UNC. I was so close but I wasn’t able to pull it out. So hopefully we can have a change this time so I’m really excited about that.”

As exciting is Sunday’s match against North Carolina. The emotion of welcoming the ACC’s top team, which heads into the weekend at 12-0 in the Conference — Tech, Duke and Miami are next at 10-2 — and Carter, the nation’s top player, is actually ratcheted up by saying goodbye to seniors Megan Kurey, Kendal Woodard and Natasha Prokhnevska.

“Oh, gosh, everyone is going to be playing with such grit out there because we love our seniors so much,” Renaud said. “We want to send them off with something to hold onto because beating UNC would mean so much to them and so much to us. That would be the icing on top of the cake.”

A successful weekend also would get the team in the right frame of mind heading into next weekend’s ACC Tournament, where they hope to take things a step further than last season, when the reached the Final.

“This year I feel that the girls are a lot more confident,” she said. “Going into these two home matches, if we pull out one or even if the results don’t go the way we planned, I feel like our confidence going into the ACC Tournament will be even higher than it was last year. We made it to the Finals last year so we can take it home this year. I’m pretty confident.”

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