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#TGW: Looking for the Baseline

March 10, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

There was a bit of a case study the other day in the Ken Byers Tennis Complex, where Georgia Tech’s 56th-ranked women’s team disposed of Louisville in fairly thorough fashion only to leave head coach Rodney Harmon shaking his head.

Harmon’s not a fan of head shaking, which is part of why he was shaking his head.

The Yellow Jackets (5-4, 2-1 ACC) beat the Cardinals 5-2 with three freshmen in the singles lineup, yet the head coach was not entirely pleased with the way the match went.

Harmon’s looking at a bigger picture than final score, and the way some of his players have gone about their business on the court – not just against Louisville — has not measured up.

“I was not ecstatic with the way we played. It’s not as much about score as it is body language,” the coach explained. “Your actions affect your teammates so you always have to project competitiveness, confidence and a willingness to try to find a way.”

College tennis is, for the most part, a team sport. Some players, men and women, have not played on teams before while coming up in juniors. High school team tennis is not for every fine, young tennis player.

This is new for freshman Johnnise Renaud, who rolled to a 6-1, 6-4 win over Louisville’s Jessie Lynn Paul at No. 1 singles.

“I had played no team tennis, and it’s totally different,” she said after moving her record for the school year to 13-10 with a No. 67 national ranking. “I am very aware of the court, and sometimes my coaches get annoyed because they think it takes away from my focus.”

There’s something of a fine line: Harmon would in a way rather players not invest themselves emotionally in anything other than their own matches while they’re playing, but that’s not reality. Most players know what’s going on around them.

“Indoors, we can see scores, but I’d rather not see scores and just see how my teammates are acting on the court,” Renaud said. “It can pump you up or bring you down. I see all the way down to court 6.”

Renaud and fellow freshman Paige Hourigan (14-6), who blew past Louisville’s Ariana Rodriguez 6-1, 6-1, have handled all the work this spring on court 1 and most of it on No. 2. Renaud is 4-5 in those spots and 1-3 against nationally ranked opponents. Hourigan, who is ranked No. 57, is 5-2 (2-2).

Junior Kendal Woodard, who is 3-0 in ACC play and working at Nos. 3 and 4, lives at the baseline where Harmon would like to see all players work.

“She is pretty good with her body language all the time, always pretty positive,” the coach said. “She probably exudes the most confidence. We had a match last year where a player lost but fought so hard that it brought up the energy of the girls beside her, where we won, and we upset Duke.

“You may not be able to find a way that day, but when your teammate looks over she needs to see someone who’d trying to stem the tide . . . We have some rough ones coming up where the tide is going to come in and go out, up and down.”

Indeed. The Jackets are in the midst of a rare nine-day stretch without an ACC match, and holding challenge matches among themselves in anticipation of Sunday’s visit by No. 14 Miami.

The Hurricanes smoked Tech 7-0 in south Florida last spring on a day when Harmon was convinced that energy, or a shortage of it, was the difference in several close matches.

This is the way it will be: Tech lost its ACC opener, 5-2, at No. 1 Virginia (after losing at then-No. 3 Georgia), and there’s plenty of competition in store.

Pending opponents include the `Canes, No. 57 Florida State, No. 25 Notre Dame, No. 28 Northwestern, No. 50 Wake Forest, No. 21 Duke, No. 49 Virginia Tech, No. 15 Clemson, No. 45 Boston College, No. 5 Virginia, Pittsburgh and No. 67 Syracuse.

“They’ve played enough, and they’re smart enough to realize that when we played up at North Carolina, we had a chance against the No. 1 team in the country,” Harmon said.

“It’s good in that you know you can play with the best teams in the nation, but it’s bad in that if you don’t bring the right energy . . . there are so many good teams in our conference, and then you can get tripped up.”

The goal is to play as one, not six (or more depending upon doubles pairings).

“We talk all down the court the whole time,” Renaud said of the Jackets. “I had experienced nothing like that before. The way the team plays ultimately matters. We lost to UNC recently, and we were so proud of the way we competed that the loss didn’t even . . . nobody was upset.

“We were just pleased with the way we executed our game plan. Ultimately, we just want to play good tennis.”

Harmon’s message – the way you play, win or lose, may impact the team score beyond your score – is being repeated daily.

While junior Megan Kurey continues working her way back from the foot injury that sidelined her for the entire fall, Harmon is working to build the Jackets’ intestinal fortitude.

“If you’re at 1 or 6, it’s less of an influence because there’s only one player next to you,” he said. “If you’re at 2-5 and acting a fool, that’s when it can really cause problems. If you’re in the middle, it can really wreak havoc.”


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