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#STINGDAILY: Queens of Queens?

Oct. 28, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

It is with tremendous regret to the good people of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and especially the University of Alabama — host school for this weekend’s Crimson Tide Invitational — that Megan Kurey and Kendal Woodard will be passing on their event.

It’s nothing personal. Tech’s No. 1 doubles team played Tuscaloosa last year in the Roberta Alison Fall Classic winning two matches. It was the where the duo, long time friends, made their collegiate debut as doubles partners. They also played there in July, winning the ITA Summer Circuit.

It’s just that, there’s this little thing called the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships taking place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens, N.Y., beginning on Nov. 7 that kind of trumps the Crimson Tide Invitational. Actually, it pretty much trumps EVERYTHING else.

It’s a big deal for Woodard and Kurey, who have been to New York, but as tourists — never as players.

“I’ve been to New York but I was really young,” said Woodard. “I’ve never been to where we’re going. I’ve never been to the courts up there. So I’m really excited and I know Megan’s really excited because she LOVES New York.”

“I love New York. I just love big cities and I’m really excited,” said Kurey. “I’ve been there to watch the U.S. Open a couple of times but we have such a great opportunity to be able to play in Flushing Meadows and we’re really excited about that. It was nice to get that win so we can go to New York. Just being able to get the opportunity to play top-ranked teams and getting some wins that will help us to reach our goal of getting into the NCAA Tournament.”

“That win” refers to the championship they took home at last week’s ITA Southeast Regional, held at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on the University of Georgia campus.

It capped off a tremendous fall for the team of Woodard and Kurey, ranked No. 26 in the nation in preseason polls. They bring a 12-4 fall record into New York and ride a six-match winning streak. It’s a nice carryover from their first spring on The Flats, when they put together a 24-6 record, 14-3 playing at No. 1 doubles, and finished by winning nine of their final 10 matches. That was in addition to their combined 52-19 record in singles (Woodard was 28-10, Kurey 24-9).

But the season ended short of their goal of reaching the NCAAs, a goal that fueled them over the summer.

“We had a very successful spring and we were very happy but we really wanted to make the NCAA Tournament,” said Kurey. “We played very well in the summer together and going into the fall we realized what we needed to do to make the NCAA Tournament. Going into the fall we knew what we had to do and we’ve been playing really well.”

They reached the winner’s circle plenty, winning over the summer, in Tuscaloosa, then last weekend. In between was a tough 8-6 first-round loss to North Carolina’s No. 1 team of Caroline Price and Whitney Kay, the 15th-ranked team in the country, in the Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships in early October. But they responded by running off three straight wins to reach the final of the consolation draw.

Key to Woodard and Kurey has been their ability to win close matches. In July in Tuscaloosa they won four of their five matches by two games, then in Athens, had to win a pair of 8-7 matches in tiebreakers, one in the quarters then the next day in the semis.

“It’s always good to have close matches before you get into the Finals,” said Woodard. “That means that you’ve had to work on things and you’re not just going in off of easy matches. So you’re prepared for it when you get to the Finals.”

The first of those, against the team of Olaya Garrido-Rivas and Fanny Fracassi of South Florida, was a little too close for comfort.

“The quarters we just weren’t playing well and we easily could have lost that match that we won, 7-5 in the tiebreaker,” said Kurey. “We were a little worried in that match but we ended up pulling it out and the next two matches we played great.”

Knowing each other — they’ve been playing since 10’s in Juniors — and the chemistry they’ve created on the court over the last year-plus was a big factor in keeping poised and pulling out the USF match as well as the following 8-7 against the team of Marcia Tere-Apisah and Tarani Kamoe of Georgia State.

“We’d like to think that,” said Woodard. “We just have to stay ready when we’re playing. Expect anything to happen. We just want to keep moving at the net and just play aggressively. It’s that and you just have to be ready for anything. Just working hard in practice it will help you get ready for matches like that against ranked people.”

“Now that we’ve played so much together we kind of know each other’s game, know how we act, know what we need to do to win so it’s kind of just trusting each other,” agreed Kurey. “In that tiebreaker we don’t have to say much to each other. We know what each other needs to do to get the win.”

In the Monday afternoon final, the Jackets duo didn’t need a tiebreaker, taking out Georgia’s team of Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase, 8-2. It was the third time the two teams met and the third time Tech came out on top. It also was the shortest match of the three, as both previous matches ended 8-3.

“Oh there’s never a more satisfying feeling than beating Georgia, especially in Athens,” said Kurey. “There’s not a better feeling than beating them.

“Beating them at [their] home, just warms my heart,” added Woodard, with a laugh. “It really is exciting just knowing the hard work is paying off. We just have to keep practicing and keep getting ready.”

They’ll certainly be ready for other teams’ best shot, which they know will be coming as a result of their success.

“It feels good to know that people are going to start coming after us,” said Woodard. “It just means we’re going to have better matches. I’m excited for it.

Woodard and Kurey will spend the coming week getting ready for what they need to do to be successful on the court in Flushing.

They are confident they already know what they need in order to attain their goals off it.

“Money, to shop,” said Kurey, with a big laugh.

“The charger for my phone so I can take lots of pictures,” said Woodard. “My parents told me to take a lot of pictures while I’m up there.”

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