By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
It seems strange at first thought, but as the Georgia Tech women’s tennis team left Thursday to travel to the ACC Tournament, the Yellow Jackets appear to feel better about themselves without momentum.
Ranked No. 8 in the nation, the Jackets (23-3, 13-1 ACC) won 16 consecutive matches — including 13 in a row in the conference — before dropping their regular season finale last Sunday, 4-3 at No. 12 Duke. The Blue Devils rallied for that win, capturing the final two singles matches in three sets each.
That was not pleasant, yet may have created a boomerang effect, a springboard, as the Jackets head to the Rome (Ga.) Tennis Center at Berry College.
“Yes, for sure,” said junior Johnnise Renaud. “All of us were so hurt from the loss, so I kind of feel like it put a little fire in the belly going into ACCs.
“Of course, we wanted the perfect season, and to be regular season champs, but I feel like the loss grounded us and sort of put the idea in our heads that we really need to buckle down.”
At the spots where they’re expected to play Friday against the winner of Thursday’s match between Louisville and No. 34 Wake Forest, these student-athletes have records of — in the same order — 8-5, 8-2, 9-4, 17-5, 18-1, 8-1 and 4-0.
During the regular season, Tech beat Louisville 7-0 and Wake Forest 6-1, but the nature of the Jackets’ loss at Duke, and it’s timing, might help reduce the likelihood of them taking anything for granted as the team chases the program’s fifth ACC title (2005, ’06, ’07, ’10).
“Having that perfect season would’ve been great, but I think that loss really helped us stay more focused and stay humble because if we don’t lose, we’re never going to learn,” McAdoo said. “I think that really helped.”
Some coaches will alter their lineups in search of what they perceive to be more favorable matchups, but Tech’s Rodney Harmon — this year’s ACC Coach of the Year — is not one of them.
“I just put the player in the order they’ve earned,” Harmon explained. “I think the team appreciates that . . . We know how everyone plays, and so we’ve just got to get out and do what we do. We play a certain way, and we’ve just got to get out and do it.”
Despite last Sunday’s result at Duke, Renaud believes the Jackets actually have all the energy they need heading into ACCs. They won their first 13 matches in perhaps the toughest conference in the nation, after all, including a 4-3 win at defending champion North Carolina.
That snapped the Tar Heels’ streaks of 36 consecutive ACC wins and 50 home wins.
North Carolina, Duke and Tech all finished 13-1 in conference play, with tiebreakers seeding them No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in the tournament.
“I feel like we’re playing at such a high level that we’re just carrying over the momentum,” Renaud said. “I feel like if we would have won, we would have gone into ACCs thinking, `OK, we can beat everybody. We don’t have to worry about anything.'”
Should the Jackets win their Friday match against Louisville or Wake Forest, they may get a shot at revenge Saturday — if Duke beats the winner of Thursday’s match between No. 33 Notre Dame and Clemson.
As McAdoo said, “We just have to play our match.”