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Powering Up

Jan. 16, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Georgia Tech women’s tennis coach Rodney Harmon believes in the power of positive thinking and that every day is a good day.

Harmon will be counting on that power and the power registered on the court by his hard-hitting 20th-ranked Yellow Jackets to add up to three good days during this weekend’s Michigan Invitational. The event, taking place at the Varsity Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, marks the official opening of the spring season.

“We’re excited to get going and ready to go to Michigan,” he said.

The Jackets open up at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday in doubles competition against South Florida, then go mano-a-mano against Ole Miss in singles at 4:00 p.m. Sunday they face the Rebels in doubles at 1:00 p.m. then tangle with the host Wolverines in singles at 2:00. They’ll conclude on Sunday, taking on South Florida in singles at 10:00 a.m. then conclude with doubles against Michigan at 1:00 p.m.

The competition promises to be fierce, as Michigan opens the season at No. 11, Ole Miss comes in at 35 and South Florida is No. 59. Harmon believes that facing stiff competition right off the bat, will battle-test his team and prepare them for an unforgiving slate that has includes matches against eight top-25 schools in ACC play and, for good measure, non-conference contests against No. 6 Georgia, No. 13 Northwestern and No. 23 Tennessee.

“Last year, we played several of the teams that made the Sweet 16 and the schedule looks the same this year,” he said. “We’re going to, once again, be up there in terms of toughness of schedule but that’s important for us to do, play the best teams that you can play.”

“They have very lofty goals and the only way to do that is to beat really good teams and to give ourselves enough chances to do that,” he added. “People come to play in the ACC and a school like Georgia Tech because they want the opportunity to play against top teams, to hopefully compete for ACC and national titles.”

Harmon is optimistic about his team meeting its goals, even though it fields only one senior, Muriel Wacker, isn’t necessarily sure about who his No. 1 singles player will be and faces a question about the health of sophomore Megan Kurey, half of the No. 1 doubles team — the National Indoor Champions — who is coming back from surgery to fix plantar fasciitis in her foot. Recovery kept her off the court for most of the winter.

But Harmon’s optimism isn’t derailed that easily. He’s positive he has the answers, starting with his doubles team of Kurey and fellow sophomore Kendal Woodard.

“[Kurey’s] been doing fitness and physical therapy,” he said. “When I talked with her she said she was doing pretty good. But we’ve got to bring her back slowly because she is such an important part of our team in singles and in doubles and we can’t let it become a chronic injury.”

Kurey was second on the team in singles wins last year, with 20 — only Woodard had more (24). Both had a harder time in the fall, with Kurey going 4-3, Woodard 2-7. But the duo was dynamic together, going 14-4. That included their memorable march through Regionals and on to the National Indoors in New York, where they emerged as champions. They’ll carry a 10-match winning streak into the spring season.

Most of the season Kurey played through her injury. That grit and her work ethic are things Harmon believes will rub off on the time.

“I think the title was great but I see more than that. It’s what she does every day in practice,” he said. “She comes every day ready to work hard, ready to play, never complains. She’s constantly asking about how she can get better, what to work on with her game, what she needs to do to be better. She brings such a high level to practice every day that she challenges the other players to keep their level up throughout a practice because she’s at a high level throughout our entire practice session.”

Woodard’s continued improvement also will be important to this year’s team, but her power and passion make her ascension almost a given.

More of a wild card will be the play of freshmen Rasheeda McAdoo and Alexa Anton-Ohlmeyer.

McAdoo had a team-high nine wins in the fall, vs. only three defeats, while Anton-Ohlmeyer was 6-5. The duo also finished 4-4 in doubles, winning their final two matches.

“Between Rasheeda and Alexa, we’ve got two really talented and explosive players,” Harmon said. “Just trying to get them going has been key for me. We need them to work their way in to playing. We’re going to need Rasheeda and Alexa.”

Both rely on a power game.

“Rasheeda serves as big as Kendal serves, in the 110, 115 (MPH) range,” Harmon said. “Alexa hits the ball probably as hard as anybody in college tennis and she’s just a little girl. She’s like [San Francisco Giants pitcher] Tim Lincecum. He’s really thin and small but he throws a 95 miles an hour fastball. She’s like 5-foot-4, 5-foot-5, 125 pounds and hits the ball like she’s 180. She pounds the ball.”

McAdoo and Anton-Ohlmeyer will add depth to the rotation of Woodard, Kurey, Wacker and sophomore Natasha Prokhnevska, who was 7-4 during the fall.

All six will battle it out for No. 1, as Harmon isn’t handing over the top spot permanently just yet.

“We’re going to probably be doing some rotating at one, we won’t have a designated one necessarily,” he said. “We’ll start in a rotation with whoever is playing the best at one. I think our strength is going to be 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. We’re pretty strong because all of our players are very good and pretty close in level by and large.”

One thing Harmon will promise is that his team is going to be a fun watch.

“It’s going to be a pretty young team, we only have one senior, so it’s going to be an exciting year for us,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting because we have a totally different dynamic to our team. It’s going to be an interesting year.”

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