Dec. 23, 2012
By Jon Cooper
A sure sign of the arrival of the holiday season is people bestowing upon others wishes for health and happiness.
Such wishes will bring an extra-wide smile to the face of Georgia Tech women’s tennis head coach Rodney Harmon.
Every such wish will serve as a constant reminder of what he has to look forward to in 2013 — visions of a squad of seven singles and a trio of set doubles teams playing strong and with confidence.
It’s something Harmon basically could only imagine during the fall, as his initial season was short-circuited by nagging injuries to his team. But what the players lacked in health and stability they more than made up for in determination and effort.
“For me it’s been a learning experience and I’ve learned a lot already,” said Harmon, who took the reins of the Yellow Jacket program on June 3, following the departure of long-time coach Bryan Shelton, who left to take over as men’s head coach at Florida. “The best part of it has been the fact that I have a pretty good picture of how I want things to be done, what my expectation is and I think the girls understand what that is.
“That’s probably been the most positive thing, that they understand what my expectation is and what I expect,” he added. “That’s really the most important thing. They’re not surprised. They’re not surprised with the difficulty of some of the drills that we do and the reasons why we do them. They’re not surprised at my insistence and the amount of enthusiasm and energy that they have to bring to practice every day. The biggest difference now is that they know me. It’s much better now. I think that’s probably the most positive part.”
Staying positive during the fall was a test for the squad, which although talented, had difficulty getting and keeping people on the court. It was a factor in the Yellow Jackets putting out six different doubles combinations in the abbreviated season.
There were plenty of bright moments, as the team of sophomore Jasmine Minor and junior Alex Anghelescu were undefeated in their three matches together. But that would be their only time together and Anghelescu’s only action of the fall.
With the constant balancing act that Harmon had to perform during the fall, the trio of freshmen, Megan Kurey, Natasha Prokhnevska and Kendal Woodard all got valuable court time. All three put up winning records as Woodard went 7-5 while Kurey and Prokhnevska were 6-5. Kurey, an Alpharetta native, and Woodard, from Stockbridge, also teamed up in doubles, and went 3-1. Prokhnevska teamed with Minor, and while they were 0-3, got valuable experience working together.
“I think they did a phenomenal job this fall,” said Harmon of his first-year players. “They worked hard in individuals and also in team practice. They have a lot of experience, having played in a lot of USTA matches. They have competitive backgrounds. For them, it’s not to be just preparing for matches. What they have to do in the ACC, which is so tough, is to play the one tough match then the next tough match then the next tough match. You can only see that by going through it one time. So it will be a learning experience from them, but I think it’s going to be very, very helpful.”
The backbone of the young team will be Elizabeth Kilborn, the lone senior on the squad. Kilborn was 6-5 during the fall and had both of the team’s singles wins against nationally ranked opposition, coming from a set down to knock off 24th-ranked Ecaterina Vasenina of South Florida, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, then No. 19 Joelle Kissell of NC State (6-2, 6-4) on back-to-back days in the Southern Shootout. She then gave No. 23 Abigail Tere-Apisah of Georgia State all she could handle in the final before falling 6-3, 7-5. Kilborn and Woodard also formed a senior/freshman tandem that knocked off Vasenina and Loreto Alonso, the nation’s 24th-ranked doubles team.
With Kilborn and the return to health of juniors Anghelescu and Muriel Wacker, who didn’t play in the fall, there should be plenty of upper-class leadership. Combined with the trial-by-fire the kiddie corps has bodes well for the spring.
“For the first time, at the end of the fall we were 100 percent healthy,” said Harmon. “So having everybody back really impacted us trying to create cohesiveness in our doubles teams. Now that they’re back healthy it’s great.
“Because we had people out all fall we were still trying out different combinations,” he added. “So we won’t know until right before we have that first match against Syracuse on [January] 17th. We’ll have a better idea exactly who works out with whom.”
A nice reward for the squad’s perseverance will be the opportunity to open the Ken Byers Tennis Complex against the Orange.
“The girls are thrilled. They froze a bit this fall. We had a couple of cold days and they were hoping and hoping for the new facility to be available,” he said. “It’s going to be beautiful and it’s going to help both our men’s and women’s programs and stay a factor with the other schools, in our very, very tough conference. I think it’s really going to be phenomenal.”