April 28, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Georgia Tech Women’s Tennis is coming and they’re coming with a vengeance.
The ACC was sufficiently warned over the weekend, when Tech, the sixth-seed, earned a berth in the final match of the ACC Tournament at Cary Park in Cary, N.C.
Sometime around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, some lucky team outside of the ACC likely will be put on notice as well, as that’s when selections are made for the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
The Jackets are eager to build on last weekend in Cary, when they won three matches, including a pair of 4-3’s, before finally meeting their match in nationally 10th-ranked and fourth-seeded Virginia, 4-0.
“I thought we competed very well and we won two very tough 4-3 matches, one against Duke, one against Florida State,” said Coach Rodney Harmon, who nearly captured the gold ring in only his second season on the Flats. “We had some great performances, team and individual, to be able to win those. But I think we also saw that in a team like Virginia, we see the level we have to aspire to. Our goal is to come back next year and hold the trophy up.”
That the Jackets came as close as they did is a testament to their determination and a great team effort over three days. Without a senior — they do have three juniors — Georgia Tech came into the ACC Tournament, a conference that had five teams ranked in the top 25, with a 13-8 record, 9-5 in conference, and a No. 27 national ranking. But they also came to town on a roll, having won eight of its last 10 matches, three of those at love.
“We were pretty much underdogs in the Tournament. I don’t think anyone expected us to get to the finals,” said junior captain Megan Kurey. “It was really fun. Everyone did a really good job. It was a great week to see everyone come together. We fell short today but there wasn’t a moment where the Jackets weren’t fighting their butts off. It gave us a lot of confidence that we can pretty much hang with anyone in the country. The ACC being one of the toughest conferences, it definitely gives us a lot confidence going into the NCAAs.”
They played with confidence, routing 14th-seeded NC State at love, upending 3rd-seeded Duke, 4-3, then outlasting the tourney’s destiny darling, 10th-seeded Florida State, which in back-to-back days had knocked off No. 7 Notre Dame, then No. 2 Miami, in another down-to-the-wire 4-3.
It was a nice turnaround from the regular season, when the Jackets, went 2-4 in matches that went the distance.
“During the year those were the kind of matches that were going against us and we couldn’t quite pull those out,” said Harmon.
Against Duke on Friday, freshman Paige Hourigan sealed the match with a three-set victory over No. 39 Ester Goldfeld, 6-2, 3-6, 6-0 — she and partner Kendal Woodard had beaten Goldfeld and her partner, Alyssa Smith, 8-3, in doubles before Rasheeda McAdoo and Johnnise Renaud clinched doubles with an 8-4 win over No. 71 Annie Mulholland and Chalena Scholl. Tech never trailed yet never held more than a one-game edge, as the teams alternated wins all day.
The following day, Kurey won the deciding match, which included a dramatic 7-5 final set over the Seminoles’ Daniela Schippers, in which she led 5-2, then found herself tied, before putting the match away. Similarly, Tech led 3-1 and barely fended off the hard-charging `Noles.
“I was up 5-2 and I was cruising and she honestly played some good points and really good games and got it back to 5-5,” Kurey recalled. “Of course I was a little nervous because I had my chances to finish off the match but we had a really, long game at five all and I squeezed that one out and then the next game I just focused in. I knew I would be letting my teammates down if I didn’t finish off that match. It was a great atmosphere. It was a really, really long match, but it was great.”
Tech met its match on Sunday against Virginia. They didn’t win the doubles point for the first time in the Tournament, then fell in singles.
“I didn’t think we brought enough energy. We just didn’t come out ready to play and they came out really ready to go,” Harmon said. “They came out and played really well in doubles. They have the No. 2 player in the country playing No. 1 and the reigning NCAA Champion playing No. 2. It was going to be an uphill climb once we lost the doubles point and even though we were battling and we led 3-0 in the third at one and were in the third set at five and a third set at six there just still wasn’t enough out there for us to claw our way to get through.”
The Jackets were further declawed when they lost Hourigan. The freshman, who is ranked No. 53 in the nation, had won 10 of her final 12 matches playing at No. 2 heading into Sunday but had to retire from her match against Virginia’s Danielle Collins, the nation’s 19th-ranked player, after suffering a lower leg injury. The extent of her injury and her status for the NCAAs will be determined in the coming days.
Despite all that went wrong Sunday, the young Jackets had enough go right during the season and that bodes well on Sundays — and all other days — ahead.
“We’ve beaten some really quality teams. I think that’s helped us moving forward,” said Harmon. “But I think each of the girls — and we talked about it — they have to do self-evaluation of where they are and what they need to improve, not just to get ready for the NCAAs but moving forward because next year we have a chance to have a really good team, obviously, if everybody’s healthy and everyone comes back in great shape and really works on their game. So our goal is to try to get a little bit better every day.”
“I think us being such a young team and having us gone through a run like this, being a six seed and pretty much an underdog, not anyone expecting us to get this far, it just gives us so much confidence, not only going into NCAAs, but with next year,” said Kurey. “Everyone’s coming back and how we’ve gotten to grow with each other through these experiences, we can only be better next year. So it’s exciting.”