Oct. 3, 2015
By Jon Cooper The Good Word
The bitter taste of defeat can be one that’s hard to get rid of.
Georgia Tech’s No. 1 doubles team of senior Kendal Woodard and sophomore Paige Hourigan have been living with that taste since their defeat in last year’s NCAA Tournament, a tough three-setter against the No. 5 overall team of Zsofi Susanyi and Klara Fabikova of California.
The loss hurt even more as they were up a set and led 5-1 in the second.
The wait to remove that taste is over, as the ITA All-Americans begin this weekend. The tournament runs from Oct. 3 through Oct. 11 and takes place at Riviera Tennis Club in Pacific Palisades, California.
Woodard and Hourigan enter ranked the No. 7 in the nation, and while only half of the team of Susanyi and Fabikova will be there (Fabikova) the Jackets have redemption on their mind and the lesson of last spring fresh in their memory banks.
“What we take from that is that we need to finish,” said Woodard. “When we get in there just keep your foot on the [pedal] and make sure that we finish the match. We definitely had our chances to win that match.”
“We got a preseason ranking of seven and we were pretty excited when it came out but we know that we can be No. 1,” said Hourigan, who also will be playing singles. “When we were ranked No. 20 last year we knew that we should have won the NCAA Championship. We know that we’re a good team. We just have to keep working hard and doing the little things right to make sure that we execute and beat the teams that we should beat.”
The duo went 16-4 last season in dual matches and 8-1 in ACC play during the spring but things didn’t start as smoothly in their first matches of the fall, as they went 1-2 in the Duke’s Bonk Invite two weeks ago at Cary Tennis Park, in Cary, N.C. They won their first match relatively easily, 8-2, against TCU’s team of Olaya Garrido-Rivas and Sofiko Kadzhaya but then dropped the final two matches of the weekend, falling 8-5 to North Carolina’s team of Chole Oulette-Pizer and Marika Akkerman, and 8-7 (10-8), to Duke’s team of Chalena Scholl/Jessica Ho.
While not pleased with the results, Woodard kept that tournament in perspective.
“That’s what those matches are for, to see how we’re playing and to see what we’re doing wrong so we’ll be able to come back to practice and fix it before we go off to ITA-All-Americans this weekend,” said the senior, who begins her final year with a career record of 77-35, 52-15 in dual matches. “So I definitely think we can move forward from what we did last weekend in Duke.”
Hourigan, who was 25-7 (18-2) as a freshman, agrees.
“Having a lot of time off and not playing doubles over the summer and coming back it does feel a little weird,” she said. “That’s how it was. Our first two matches were a bit on and off. Some things were going well and some things weren’t. So we know that everything is going to get back to how it was if we just keep playing and playing together.”
The weekend promises to be extra special for Hourigan, who also will be participating in singles — she led the team with 25 singles wins, going 25-12, 16-7 in dual matches — and is making her first trip to California.
“Kendal told us last time that they had a lot of free time. I’m playing singles as well, so maybe I won’t have as much free time but I’m very excited because the beach is just one mile away,” she said. “Hopefully I get to have some time to go.”
Woodard, who has been to California before, and, who with Megan Kurey, won the NCAA Indoor Championships as a sophomore in 2013, is eager to offer advice to her partner.
“I just tell her, because she’s only a sophomore, just go out there and enjoy your time. You have two more years so take what you can get from this and just enjoy every moment of it because the time, it will fly,” she said. “I’m senior. I don’t know where these last two years have gone. You’re going to be nervous when you get out there but just enjoy it once you’re there because not everyone is able to go to these type of tournaments. So just enjoy your time and make the most of it.”
Woodard is not concerned about keeping her partner focused and sunburn-free. This weekend is all about having fun.
“We’re going to enjoy our time out there but we’re not going to do too much because she has singles and doubles,” she said, with a laugh. “So more than likely she’ll probably be pretty tired. I’ve been to California a few times. From being out there I think she’ll love it out there. She’s really going to have a good time.”
On the court, Woodard is confident that she and her partner will be ready, regardless of who they play.
“I know all of the teams are going to be good out there so I just have to be ready to play one of them,” she said. “So you just have to go out there ready to play.”
Hourigan says she learned a lot about the level of competition at last year’s NCAAs, something that will benefit her in raising her game.
“Being there and being surrounded by everyone that is trying to win the Championship,” she said. “Having Kendal there is awesome because she’s already done it before but I feel like this year I’m ready to go there and actually win it because I feel like it was a missed opportunity last year. We definitely should have gone further in the draw than we did.”
Hourigan is intent on going further in singles as well. After knocking off six ranked opponents while playing primarily at No. 2, she didn’t take well to her loss in last year’s NCAA singles, where she lost 6-1, 6-1, to the No. 2 overall, Carol Zhao of Stanford.
”Losing is hard and I take losses really tough on myself because I feel like all the effort that I put in wasn’t enough,” she said. “So I go back out and work harder and the next time I play a lot better.”
Hourigan is even fired up about the braided look she’ll be wearing this weekend. It’s a cool look that has already drawing some interesting feedback.
“Someone said to me, ‘Your hair is kind of intimidating,’” she said. “They said, ‘Yeah. If I saw it on the tennis court that would be kind of intimidating.’”
Woodard had no plan on following suit but is eager to show how things have changed since last spring.
“We’re very excited to go out there and show all the things that we’ve been working on since the NCAAs last year,” she said. “So we’re pretty excited.”