#TGW: ‘Laboratory’ Work
By: Matt Winkeljohn
For a variety of reasons, they haven’t played as many matches this fall as planned, so in some ways Georgia Tech’s women’s tennis will kick of its season over the next several days and they’ll get to do it at home while hosting the ITA Southeast Regionals.
Then, in a couple weeks, tennis will be finished until January.
This is a pretty big deal, as student-athletes from 13 other programs will compete Thursday-Monday at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex in a 64-player singles bracket and a 32-tandem doubles bracket. The winners of each advance to the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships Nov. 7-11 in Arizona.
Head coach Rodney Harmon is looking at this as a “laboratory.”
The fall schedule is always unlike the spring schedule. Players often scatter to tournaments at different places at the same times, and they don’t compete/score as a team like they will in spring dual matches.
Injuries and illness have sidelined several Yellow Jackets this fall, however, a couple tournaments have been canceled by weather, junior Nami Otsuka remains on the shelf with a wrist injury.
Tech’s other six players will be in action, Jeannette Lin for the first time. The freshman from Melbourne, Australia, is less than a year removed from Tommy John elbow ligament repair surgery, and figures to see action in doubles.
Speaking of doubles, that’s where Harmon and associate head coach Christy Lynch are most curious to see freshmen Lin, Dalila Said and Valeriya Deminova in action along with juniors Kenya Jones, Victoria Flores and Nadia Gizdova.
“It’s been interesting because we’ve never done really well [in the fall],” Harmon said. “Megan Kurey and Kendall Woodard won Southeastern doubles, but by and large we’re working a lot on players’ games, so we’ve never really had a great fall. We look at tournaments in fall as a laboratory to see what things work well and which don’t.”
Coming off a fabulous season in which the Jackets finished 25-6 and ranked No. 4 nationally after a runner-up finish in the ACC and an NCAA Final Four finish where Tech lost 4-2 to No. 2 Vanderbilt in a national semifinal, the Jackets have plenty of new faces.
Paige Hourigan and Johnnise Renaud graduated, and freshman Ida Jarlskog transferred to Florida.
Coincidentally, Jarlskog figures to be at Tech over the next several days as Florida is one of several talented teams that will be in the field.
“Georgia, Florida, Miami, Florida State and us are in the same region, and the University of Central Florida is really good as well,” Harmon explained. “For us, our laboratory is ACC-level matches. We try to play as strong opponents as we can. If you see it early enough, you have enough time to make adjustments. If you play weaker opponents, you don’t have that.”
Jones is looking forward to playing unencumbered.
She went 25-10 in singles last year, fall and spring included, and helped pace the Jackets.
Jones was slowed early this fall.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries, but my fall has been going pretty good,” she said. “About a month ago, I injured my toe and had to get stitches.”
In addition to Jones’ time down, a couple players have been sick, and Hurricane Florence wiped out events at Duke Sept. 14-16 and in Williamsburg, Va., at the same time. Tech had players scheduled to compete in both.
Add the fact that Otsuka’s been out and Lin is about to make her competitive debut, there have been a lot of moving parts in Tech’s lab.
“There have definitely been some injury issues, but I like the way that we’re settling in and working hard. Obviously, it’s a transition for us because we lost three of our top six,” Harmon said. “It’s an adjustment, but I think by mid-season they should be pretty far along. With ranked players, if you’re talented you’re talented.
“Jeannette the last month and a half has been hitting; this is her first action. We’ll have five in singles, and maybe she’ll play singles next week. It’s not easy, but she’s fortunate in that she’s a really good player. She has an extensive international record, and she’s got a really big game. We think [Nami] will be full go by the end of November.”
For all the uncertainties that the Jackets have navigated this fall, Jones is glad that Tech will get to play once at home this fall, and she thinks that will be helpful for the freshmen.
“It’s a homecourt advantage. We practice on these courts every day so we know how the ball is going to bounce, and we have people who can come out and watch us play,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that it really changes, we just don’t have to travel.
“The big part is you already know what to expect [as an upperclassman]. You know what’s expected of you on a daily basis, you know what to expect in class. Freshman year, it was all so new, and I came from a place where I didn’t practice nearly as much as I practice now.”
Spots in the main draw, which will begin Friday, are awarded based on where teams finished in the final rankings last spring. Tech qualified the maximum, six, but just five will play because of the health situations of Otsuka and Lin.
Other spots are available in the main draw through qualifying, which will feature one round of singles action and one in doubles on Thursday.
Tech last hosted the Regional four years ago, while the men’s team hosted last fall.
The Jackets will have a couple more chances to compete this fall before going into an eight-week hibernation of sorts and then cranking up in early January.
They’re scheduled to participate in a four-team round-robin at Vanderbilt, the June Stewart Invitational, Oct. 26-28 in Nashville, and then the Auburn Invitational Nov. 2-4.
“Two really strong tournaments . . . For us it’s a chance to play matches against really good teams,” Harmon explained. “Physically, tactically, we’ll see if we’re executing our game plans the way we’re supposed to. It’s good from that standpoint, and we learn a lot. Then, we’ll take a little time off, although they’ll keep working on things.”