By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
If he knew everything, he could answer more questions, but imagine being Rodney Harmon as the regular season is about to begin with a roster comprised half of freckle-faced freshmen – one who’s been on campus for three weeks — and players who were limited by injury in the fall.
What should the No. 13 Georgia Tech’s women’s coach expect in the ITA Indoor Kick-off Weekend at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex from a team that went to the NCAA semifinals last spring?
Well, how could anyone know before the Yellow Jackets play host to Ohio State, Kentucky and Auburn Saturday and Sunday with a chance to advance to the National Indoors?
That Tech squad lost seniors Johnnise Renaud and Paige Hourigan to graduation, and Ida Jarlskog – who went 28-8 as a freshman – transferred to Florida to play for coach Roland Thornqvist, a fellow Swede.
Plus, a few student-athletes barely played in the fall, and when the Jackets opened the “spring” schedule last weekend in the Michigan Invitational in Ann Arbor, a couple student-athletes drew sick halfway through the tournament.
“We got to play some matches against really good teams, got some good competition,” he said of last weekend, when the Jackets went 9-13 in singles and 7-5 in doubles against No. 10 Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee. “The surprise is that we have a young team, but that’s not really a surprise. We’ll see how we play.”
So, a search for answers is underway, and mixing and matching lineups will continue for Georgia Tech while the Jackets will play their first true dual matches – three doubles and six singles – of the school year.
It’s not like everybody will be new at this.
Junior Kenya Jones has been a starter for three seasons, earned second team all-ACC honors as a sophomore and has been to a pair of NCAA tournaments with Tech and two more as an individual (one for singles, two for doubles). She’s 70-27 in her college singles career, much of that time spent as a nationally-ranked player.
Junior Nami Otsuka entered the school year 59-17 as a collegian, but was sidelined in the fall and went 1-2 last weekend at Michigan.
Junior Nadia Gizdova won both her singles matches at Michigan after being limited to three matches in the fall, and sophomore Victoria Flores played 36 matches as a freshman only to play four last fall.
“[Gizdova] has made a lot of progress. Towards the end of fall, she started playing really good tennis. Also, she has some good leadership . . . ” Harmon said. “Kenya, Nadia and Nami are juniors and Nami and Kenya are team captains. That’s about experience and how they interact with other players, the desire to give a lot of their time to the incoming players.”
There are plenty of freshmen.
Dalila Said, who is from Cairo, Egypt, is 8-4, and Valeriya Deminova of Moscow, Russia, is 4-9. Jeanette Lin of Melbourne, Australia, played just two fall matches and is 2-3 overall.
Gia Cohen of Bradenton, Fla., enrolled at Tech for the second semester, and won two of her first three college matches last weekend.
“This time of year is where you’re trying to fine-tune where you are,” the coach said. “What you’re really preparing for, if you don’t make team indoors, is how can I be in position when ACCs start so that we are playing our best tennis in March and April.”
Tech has plenty of work to do before ACC play begins Feb. 24 with a home match against Pittsburgh. Following the ITA Kick-Off Weekend, there will be four home non-conference matches and a Feb. 23 dual at No. 5 Georgia before conference action begins.
If the Jackets win two matches this weekend, they also will travel to Seattle to play in the ITA National Indoors Feb. 8-10.
Harmon for the first time will stack singles lineups at positions one through six, and while it might seem obvious that Jones (13-5) will be at No. 1 in singles, there’s not much more to be counted upon beyond that, especially in doubles.
“We’re still in flux with that,” Harmon said. “We know we’re going Jeanette and Kenya [as one tandem] and Nami and Dalila . . . but we could make a change at any time.”