TGW: Red-Hot in Winter

Jan. 23, 2016

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Johnnise Renaud is red-hot in the middle of winter, and she’ll talk about winning the Michigan Invitational if you ask, but the Georgia Tech sophomore would rather talk about her teammates. That’s a real warm & fuzzy story.

As the Yellow Jackets were preparing to play William & Mary on Saturday at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex, Renaud (8-4) considered Tech’s vibe before her own.

Should the Jackets top William & Mary, and then on Sunday pass the winner of Saturday’s LSU/DePaul match to earn a spot in next month’s NCAA National Team Indoors Championships, that will mean more than her four-match winning streak.

The Jackets have come within a match of the Indoors Championships in each of the last two seasons, falling 4-3 at Nebraska.

She’s more excited about the big picture surrounding the 23rd-ranked Jackets.

“We didn’t have any new freshmen come in this year, and it made us connect more,” she said. “My first year, I didn’t really understand how to play as a team, didn’t understand how my win or loss would affect the team.

“That entails not just focusing on your court, but picking up your teammates, making sure they’re in a good environment. I have to focus on my match, but I have to be able to cheer from my teammates as well.”

Tech (1-0) is in a good place, as the ranking attests.

The Jackets are generally healthy, as Megan Kurey’s nettlesome foot and abdominal issues from last season appear to be under control.

They were locked in during the duel match season opener Jan. 10, when they blitzed UAB 7-0, and they were solid in the round-robin format last weekend at Michigan. Renaud’s three wins included a victory of No. 17-ranked Ronit Yurovsky of Michigan. Tech is coming off a 6-0 win in singles over North Florida.

Rodney Harmon likes to hear a player use the word, “connect.”

For all the time he and assistant Christy Lynch spend with student-athletes working on strokes and strategy, there is more to college tennis. Team play is different, and connectivity becomes all the more important in the duel season.

“You have to [coach team support] by feel. It’s hard for tennis players to do that initially because we play a sport that’s solitary,” said Tech’s head coach. “Even if you played high school tennis, you’re focused on your match.

“A lot of the time, a lot of it is driven by the enthusiasm and support you’re receiving while it’s going on. You have to be able to provide help for your teammates, but you also have to focus on what you’re doing.”

Upon realizing their wins and losses impact others, players tend to seek – perhaps subconsciously — the support of the same teammates they try to help.

It’s an acquired skill. Seniors Kurey (7-5), Kendal Woodard (5-3) and Natasha Prokhnevska (5-3) and juniors Rasheeda McAdoo (9-3) and Alexa Anton-Ohlmeyer (7-6) have a solid grip on the concept.

Sophomores Renaud, Alexis Prokopuik (9-3) and Paige Hourigan (6-6) have caught on, too.

“When I was in juniors, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to my surroundings,” Renaud said. “In college, even though I don’t watch the score, I watch body language. Knowing the girls for more than a year, you learn the way they think out there and when matches get tight, I can tell when somebody gets tight.”

That’s a big deal. Harmon smiles and nods his head upon hearing Renaud’s sage summation.

“When there’s a break, or you’re changing sides, you might yell down [to teammates],” he said. “You’re looking to see the person’s body language. You don’t want to see teammates with their heads down. Once you give up, it’s over.”

The Jackets have shown no signs of surrender.

“I think we’re doing really good,” Renaud said. “We’re really excited, especially with three seniors. We want to qualify for Indoors.”

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