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Sept. 20, 2012

Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –

Rodney Harmon is an optimist.

It’s a trait that serves him well as a college coach, especially when you’ve had a preseason like he has.

Even with 25 years of experience developing tennis talent, Harmon, who is beginning his first season as Georgia Tech women’s tennis head coach, has seen the injury bug attack his squad quite regularly.

He saw freshman Megan Kurey tweak an ankle prior to Wednesday’s practice, making her the third player to have to deal with an injury — Alex Anghelescu and Muriel Wacker preceded her.

This has all come while practicing against each other.

“We have two other players injured right now,” he said. “So to see one more go down, I was almost ready to cry.”

He didn’t, of course, and it’s not because there’s some unwritten rule about no crying in tennis. He didn’t lose it because he’s also a realist and knows not all is lost.

“Truth be told, I’d rather [injuries] be now,” he said, with a laugh. “It’s a long, long season. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and so if you’re going to have injuries you’d rather have them a little bit earlier, take your time and get healthy. The bulk of our major matches come in January and later in the fall as well. The big tournaments, the Regionals, are late October. We just need them to be back and ready to play.”

The Yellow Jackets will have a team ready to compete this weekend when they open their 2012 fall season in the Georgia State Invitational, being held at Piedmont Park (the field also includes the University of South Florida and North Carolina State in addition to the host Panthers). It just will look different from years past. It’s a lot different from last year’s team, which had four seniors, Jillian O’Neill, the ACC Women’s Tennis Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Lynn Blau, Viet Ha Ngo, and Caroline Lilley.

These Jackets have one senior (Elizabeth Kilborn), two juniors Wacker and Anghelescu, one sophomore Jasmine Minor and three freshmen, Kurey, Natasha Prokhnevska and Kendal Woodard.

Harmon likes the mix and believes that youth isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially considering the caliber of the freshmen and the leadership quality of the upperclassmen.

“Our freshmen have played a lot of tennis,” he said. “They’ve played a lot of national tournaments, a lot of ITF Tournaments, so they have a lot of experience. The hard part for them is being able to sustain their level of play over an entire season and that’s where Liz and Alex and ‘Jas’ and Muriel will be there to help them. If they have a great win, you don’t get too high and if you have a bad match or two, you don’t get to low because it’s such a long season. You’ve got to be able to control your emotions and be able to come back and play some good tennis to continue to help the team and help yourself as well.”

The Yellow Jackets open play today competing in doubles against NC State then singles against South Florida. On Saturday they’ll play Georgia State in doubles and NC State in singles, the Jackets’ first taste of ACC play. They’ll conclude the event on Sunday playing USF in doubles and Georgia State in singles. Matches start all three days at 9:00 a.m.

Harmon admits that the injuries will throw something of a wrench in the works, but feels it also gives his players an opportunity to shine in different roles.

“It definitely is going to mix it up a little bit,” he said. “Alex will play doubles, and that will help us get a little bit more of a clear look at what doubles is going to look like. Muriel is a great doubles player. So not having her available definitely doesn’t make it easy for us. She’s the only lefty on our team and she’s such a crafty and experienced doubles player. So to not have her available is a bit rough. But it’s okay because it will give other players a chance to play some.”

Harmon will pair Kilborn, the No. 94 player in the nation according to ITA/Campbell’s College Tennis Rankings, with a career 68-46 singles and a 64-47 doubles record, and Woodard, the top-ranked juniors player in the state of Georgia and No. 12 player in the nation according to Anghelescu, who was 16-10 playing doubles with O’Neill, will team with Minor, a 2012 Academic All-ACC performer who went 25-11 in singles and 12-7 in doubles last year. Tech’s third team pairs freshmen, Kurey, an Alpharetta native who was ranked No. 4 in Georgia and No. 33 nationally by, and Prokhnevska, a Wilmington, Delaware, native, who ranked No. 1 in her home state, No. 3 in the Mid-Atlantic region and No.23 in the nation.

Harmon expects the Georgia State Invitational to answer some early questions.

“We’re seeing three really good teams, three quality teams. So we’ll really get a clear picture as to the level of our players right now,” he said. “That’s a good thing because that will give us a clear idea of things we need to focus on and practice for the rest of the semester and in getting ready for the Spring season as well. It’s going to be a good test for us. The girls are looking forward to playing and I’m looking forward to getting out there, coaching them and working with them.”

He’s also looking forward to his team’s first taste of ACC play.

“NC State is a quality ACC opponent and the ACC is going to be rough this year,” Harmon said. “We know Notre Dame is coming into our conference. The ACC is going to be a rougher place to play. Which is good.”



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