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#TGW: Fall Tennis on the Flats

Oct. 17, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

It’s still early, as the season that matters most won’t come for months, but Rodney Harmon is amped up in a regular- or post-season kind of way for the Women’s ITA Southeast Regional, and not just because it is at Georgia Tech.

With student-athletes from 16 programs playing Friday through Monday at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex, the Yellow Jackets’ women’s coach is looking forward not only to seeing his team in action, but to seeing his players compete with some of the best players in college tennis.

The Jackets are up and comers, and Georgia, Florida State, Miami and Florida – all likely to be top 15 teams — are in a strong field at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex.

“This is a strong field, brutal,” Harmon said. “But it’s good; it’s want you want. You want to play tough teams because when it matters in March and April and we’re in the midst of our ACC season you want to have played tough teams.

“You want to be able to go out and compete against the best. You want to be able to have seen players at the level of Georgia and Florida . . . our schedule is littered with great teams. It’s what I believe in when it comes to scheduling.”

So, this will be another weekend for the young players, the third outing of the fall for Tech – and the biggest yet.

Junior Natasha Prokhnevska, sophomores Rasheeda McAdoo and Alexa Anton-Ohlmeyer will be in action along with freshmen Paige Hourigan, Johnnise Renaud, Alexis Prokopuik and Vooha Vellanki.

Autumn events are rarely staged in team formats, but Harmon and assistant Christy Lynch are looking forward to their third opportunity this autumn to see the Jackets in action. They’ll pay special attention to the freshmen.

McAdoo (5-1), Hourigan (5-2) and Renaud (3-1) are off to solid starts, and the Jackets are 10-2 so far in doubles. There, Hourigan/McAdoo are 5-1 and Prokhnevska/Renaud are 3-0.

This time of year is spent tuning up, and searching for doubles pairings.

While it would be nice to have Kurey – who has begun practicing after a procedure to address the nagging plantar fasciitis in her foot – and Woodard, Harmon will have all the more time to lock in on his younger players as they gain valuable experience.

Kurey and Woodard won this regional last year on the way to winning a national title, yet Harmon will have a little more time to focus on his team’s future.

“The younger ones have to play because they don’t know, they haven’t done the whole college thing and it’s a different animal,” Harmon said. “It’s a different kind of pressure. Some of these players, like Florida State and Miami, you’re going to have to play them again [in ACC action next spring].”

McAdoo is off to quite a start, but admits there is a different vibe to fall tennis than the spring game. This is more about tweaking strategies and strokes than moving up standings.

“For fall, it’s usually just practice matches to get prepared for the season,” she said. “I don’t really change my game, just improve it so I can relax more . . . it’s slightly different. Usually, when we play matches we’re pumped up . . . it might be more tense in the spring, more rivalry-type stuff.”

Harmon wants several girls to better learn to relax.

His freshmen are intense. Hourigan is particularly dialed in and hard on herself.

“She’s a tough girl, rugged. She’s emotional. She can definitely get fiery,” Harmon said. “But she’s talented, right there with any player in the country. It’s about just getting her to not go a little wayward because it’s not always going to go well.

“Johnnise obviously has a very high talent level, but we’re trying to get her to not be such a perfectionist. Sport is an imperfect action. I told her, ‘You go for excellence, not perfection.’ So we’re working on body language.

“Their abilities to hit, and Alexis as well . . . they hit so well. Alexis is one of the hardest workers I’ve been around. In the classroom, on the court, there’s no break. I’ve got to get all three of them to lighten up a little in different ways.”

The Jackets will have just one more event this fall, two for anyone who wins out of this weekend’s regional.

Tech will play in two weeks in the Crimson Tide Invitational at Alabama, and the USTA/ITA Indoor Nationals will be a week later in New York.

“I think our team is coming along,” said Tech’s third-year head coach. “There are things that each of our incoming players have been working on a lot in their games. We have a very talented team. Our talent level is much higher overall than what we’ve had since I’ve been here.

“I think we match up talent-wise against a lot of the top teams, but you’ve still got to go out there and do it. It’s not just great players at 1 and 2, but throughout. It’s going to take a huge effort. I’m excited about the upcoming season, but I’m also excited about this weekend.”

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