Nov. 18, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Frank Sinatra sang about New York, `If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere.’
No matter what opponents tried, Georgia Tech Women’s Tennis No. 1 doubles team found a way to beat four of the top doubles teams in the nation and take home the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships held at the USTA-Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Nov. 7 through the 10th.
Being the last ones standing on the nation’s biggest stage was a dream come true for the duo, which was making its New York debut.
“It was my first time playing there so it was pretty awesome,” said Woodard. “Then to go out there and win makes the trip even better than what it started to be.”
“It’s definitely the most rewarding trip,” said Kurey, who in previous trips to the Big Apple and to Flushing Meadows, had been doing the watching, not the playing. “We never really thought we were going to win the tournament. We just wanted to have some fun and play some good matches and we ended up playing really well and winning it. So we’re really, really excited.”
The duo was really, really exciting, as over their four days they took the measure of a pair of teams from the University of Southern California (No. 19 Brynn Boren and Zoe Katz in their first match, then No. 54 Giuliana Olmos and Zoe Scandalis in the semifinals), sent a message to Rachel Pierson and Julia Elbaba a new, but very good pairing from ACC rival Virginia, and finally, showed what they were made of by digging deep to come from a set down to win the final over No. 58 Julia Fellerhoff and Rebecca Shine from Louisville.
“Since we didn’t play those teams, we didn’t really know much so we basically went out there and did what we knew we can do and control,” said Woodard. “As the match went on we started to notice things that helped us get the win.”
In the initial match against the higher-ranked Trojans pair, they learned to overcome the jitters that accompanied playing at such a prestigious location, pulling away from the 26th-ranked Trojans, 8-5.
“Our first match we were a little nervous,” admitted Woodard. “We were just excited to get there and we knew what we had to do to win.”
“We just went out there and tried not to think about how big of a tournament it was, treat it just like it was any other match, agreed Kurey. “There was a little bit of nerves but we played well.”
Keeping their cool came into play Cavaliers Pierson and Elbaba, although they almost didn’t get the chance, falling behind, 5-3. But that ninth game proved a test of their character and endurance, as it lasted 34 points. They passed with flying colors.
“That was the longest game I think we’ve ever played before,” said Kurey. “That was most definitely the key game of the match. It was definitely nerve-wracking because if we had lost that game it would have been 6-3. That’s much different than 5-4. After we won that game we had the momentum and kind of knew we were going to pull through. That’s how big of a game it was.”
With a berth in the semis insured, Woodard and Kurey found a new set of challenges placed before them, as the rest of the tournament would be best two of three sets.
That format would become a double-edged sword, nearly hurting the Jackets team in the semifinals but coming to their aid in the finals.
In the semis, against Olmos and Scandalis, from Southern Cal, Kurey and Woodard rolled through the first set, winning at love. But then the Trojans team changed tactics and the course of the match.
“In the first set they were pretty much just hitting the ball as hard as they could. In the second set they completely switched it up on us,” said Kurey. “We had never really seen what we saw in the second set of that match. They were kind of playing two back most of the time. We haven’t really seen teams that would do that. They were just kind of volleying, changing the pace of the ball completely. So it definitely threw us off for a set. But then we figured out a way to deal with it in the third.”
After falling 4-6 in the second set, Tech’s team adapted, winning the deciding match, decisively, 6-0.
“They played us completely different than the first set and then once we went into the third they were still playing the same so we just capitalized on their mistakes,” said Woodard. “We just finished and made plays in the third set.”
That set up a final match with the Cardinals pair.
This time, the shoe was on the other foot, as Woodard and Kurey dropped the first set, 4-6. With a two-set margin for error as opposed to the usual two games, they settled in, evening things up at 6-3, then outlasting Louisville’s pair, 7-5.
“Going into the second set we knew there were two sets left,” said Woodard. “They were playing great the whole match but we just had to not make errors and keep making plays and that’s what we did.”
“We knew how big of a stage it was in the Finals and what it would mean if we won,” added Kurey. “Louisville played so well in the first set that you kind of know that some people can’t keep that up. We had so much confidence in each other that even though they were playing so well, we knew that we could come back. The third set was very close. We didn’t lose sight of what was at the end.
“After winning that last match point, it was one of the best feelings,” she continued. “Just realizing that we were National Champions, it was a great feeling.”
They wouldn’t get long to celebrate in their new fiefdom, as they were off to the airport. But there would be a celebration once they got back onto the Georgia Tech campus.
“Our teammates and our fitness coach Scott McDonald and [Asst. A.D.] Theresa [Wenzel] were there waiting for us at the Tennis Center,” said Woodard. “So it was cool.”
“They surprised us with a cake and stuff,” added Kurey. “It was such a great feeling to have such a strong support system.”
The duo will get a few weeks off, as the outdoor season doesn’t begin until January 18 at the Michigan Invitational in Ann Arbor. That’s welcome rest for Kurey, who will try to get through a case of plantar fasciitis.
But Tech’s No. 1 is excited about the prospect of going from the hunted to the hunter in only one season. After what they got through in New York they’re confident they can handle anything.
“We have captains’ practices and we still work out,” said Woodard. “We just have to keep up on that and be ready for the spring.”
Kurey had no problem speaking for her partner in assuring they will be ready.
“We know people are going to be after us from Day One,” said Kurey. “We wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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