Oct. 19, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Saturday wound up a good day as any day that includes Georgia Tech student-athletes beating those from the University of Georgia must, but it was odd when women’s tennis coach Rodney Harmon left Johnnise Renaud’s first match at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex.
Renaud split the first two sets against Wendy Zhang of Miami, and then – after Renaud had drawn skittish in dropping the second set while spilling frustrations in the process – Harmon moved elsewhere at the ITA Southeast Regional.
Hmmm; what was this all about?
Turns out that Renaud’s teammates, Natasha Prokhnevska and Paige Hourigan, had started matches against opponents from dreaded Georgia. Those Jackets needed attention so off the coach went. A third Bulldog was playing nearby, too, but Renaud didn’t see that. She noticed Harmon leaving.
No worries. She leaned on her crew – from Miami.
Renaud tapped into the energy of her parents, Ricky and Pamela, who traveled from the family’s hometown of Miami, and two of her cousins (Earol and Rondell) and two of her uncles (Gary and Reggie). The cousins and uncles live in metro Atlanta, although one uncle wore an orange Miami (Dolphins) shirt.
They were a loud and proud micro crowd.
“It’s very helpful,” Renaud said. “I was kind of upset because I needed help, but . . . with all of our girls playing at one time it was hard for Rodney to stay on my court and help me through the third set.
“So when he ended up leaving, her coach was in her ear after every single point telling her where to serve, where to hit her second ball . . . so it was kind of distracting. They [family members] were really encouraging.”
Times were tense.
Players make their own calls in this event, which will run through Monday, but an ITA official was summoned to lord over the latter half of the Zhang-Renaud match as enough calls were questioned by each player so as to create palpable tension. Renaud dialed back in, taking the third set 6-3 as her mother was particularly notable in her cheering, and an uncle repeatedly hollered, “This is your house!”
Well, yes, it became the Renauds’ home away from home.
She moved on to rally hard past Georgia’s Hannah King for a 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 win. That was a nice follow-up to Prokhnevska topping UGA’s Silvia Garcia, the No. 2 seed, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, in one of the Tech matches that pulled Harmon away.
“I was pretty tight [in the second set], the wind was a factor,” Renaud said. “I kept more balls in, although the serve was not on my side.”
Her family was in her corner, however, and with their wins over Bulldogs, Renaud and Prokhnevska moved into the quarterfinals with two wins apiece Saturday.
They had Tech company in success, although they are the only two Jackets still alive in the main draw.
In the main draw, Hourigan, a freshman from New Zealand, split matches in the main draw, falling to Georgia’s Lauren Herring, the No. 1 seed, and sophomore Rasheeda McAdoo split matches including a win over Florida State’s Kerrie Cartwright.
Freshman Alexis Prokopuik split matches in the A consolation draw. Renaud was clearly pleased that her family was in “her house.”
It was the first time her parents saw her play as a collegian, and her father – who was just as notably low-key as her mother was the opposite – doesn’t get to see her play in person often.
“My dad really doesn’t come to too many tournaments because he’s a nervous wreck,” Johnnise said. “It’s great to have them here.”