May 21, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Kendal Woodard showed last Wednesday morning that she can be a master of restraint.
Woodard had just received a text from doubles partner Megan Kurey saying they’d been selected to compete in the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga. The problem was she was in class.
“When she texted me in tutoring I thought, `This is cool,'” she said.
“I couldn’t really do much,” she added with a laugh. “But after, I was texting her. I was like, `Let’s get it going. It’s time to go now!’
Going to Athens, and playing at the Magill Tennis Complex has always held significance for Kurey and Woodard, as Georgia Tech student-athletes, but this trip trumps the others, as they’re not only representatives of Georgia Tech, but also one of the best doubles teams in the country.
They would like to remove the qualifier “one of” from that title and, beginning today, have the opportunity to do just that. They’ll begin play today as the sixth overall seed in the 32-team tournament, which run through Monday. (Their match today begins at 1:30 p.m.)
“Winning the NCAAs is always No. 1,” said Woodard.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” agreed Kurey. “New York was big, but the NCAA is probably the big, big tournament.”
“New York” refers to the NCAA Indoor Tournament, held in early November at the prestigious USTA-Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., at which Tech’s dynamic duo took home the championship.
While the goal — and a lot of the competition — remains the same, Kurey admits that Tournament is ancient history.
“The Indoors was the beginning of the year,” said Kurey. “So some teams weren’t quite figured out. Some teams have been tweaked. I’d say the NCAA is bigger. It’s the biggest one.”
Kurey and Woodard have thought big, i.e., winning a national championship, since they committed to Georgia Tech less than a month apart in September 2012 (Woodard first, then Kurey). The duo, who have been friends and opponents since before their teenage years, have been doubles partners on The Flats since last spring, and, in that time, have put up a record of 51-16 — 24-6 as freshmen, 27-10 as sophomores — a not-too-shabby .761 winning percentage.
It didn’t take long after the formation of their team for them to recognize that the sky was the limit.
“I think our freshman spring season we did really well and I think we realized how good of a team we could be,” said Kurey, who is 36-26 in singles (Woodard is 35-34). “We improved on some things and worked really hard and then I think that just led into the fall.”
The duo realized just how good they could be last October in the USTA/ITA Southeast Regionals, when they, admittedly, didn’t play their best, yet still came away with a title. Coincidentally that Regional was played at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
“In Regionals we didn’t play that great, [getting] into the Finals,” said Woodard.
In the final, facing a hostile crowd and UGA’s top team of Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase, Kurey and Woodard put together one of their best matches of the season, routing the Bulldogs team, 8-2. They’d carry that momentum into the National Indoors, where they took care of business, dropping only one set on the way to the finals, then overcame a first-set loss to take a three-set thriller, 7-5 in the third set, over Louisville’s Julia Fellerhoff and Rebecca Shine.
While Kurey and Woodard didn’t see many of the other top eight seeds during the 2014 season, there is no shortage of familiar competition potentially in their path this week.
Should they advance to the Quarterfinals, there awaits Herring and Kowase, which they beat, 8-2, or Northwestern’s team of Alicia Barnett and Veronica Corning, which beat them, 8-3, back on March 21 in Evansville.
At the Semifinal stage Virginia’s team of Julia Elbaba and Rachel Pierson awaits, as does Vanderbilt’s team of Courtney Colton and Lauren Mira, and USC’s team of Brynn Boren and Zoe Katz.
Kurey and Woodard beat Elbaba and Pierson, 8-5, in the Quarterfinals in New York and led them, 7-3, on April 25, in the second round of the ACC Tournament in a match that was unfinished. They also beat Boren and Katz, 8-4, in the Round of 16 in New York, but lost to Colton and Mira, 8-3, at the recent NCAA Tournament.
The Finals could see matches with ACC foes Whitney Kay and Caroline Price of North Carolina (to whom they lost 8-6 and 8-7), Monique Albuquerque and Clementina Riobueno of Miami, Beatrice Capra and Hanna Mar of Duke, or yet more rematches from New York, possibly against USC’s Giuliana Olmos and Zoe Scaldalis, who Kurey and Woodard conquered in a three-set Semifinal (6-0, 4-6, 6-0) and Fellerhoff and Shine.
A championship would give Kurey and Woodard an accomplishment none of the nine previous Yellow Jackets’ teams that have competed in the NCAAs were able to do. But they are not looking any further than their first match, against Sofie Oyen and Belinda Woolcock of Florida, and aren’t thinking about anyone else.
“Just be ready to play anyone,” said Woodard. “We don’t really go up there saying, `We really want to play them.’ We just want to get up there and do what we do.”
“We can only control what goes on with us, so just focus one match at a time no matter who we’re playing,” added Kurey. “If we’ve played them before [play them like] we haven’t, because everyone can have good days and everyone can have bad days. So just focusing on what we need to do is going to get it done.”
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