April 22, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Last year, Georgia Tech surprised people with their rush from the sixth seed all the way to the Final of the ACC Championships where the ride finally ended, with a 4-0 loss to Virginia.
A year later, the Yellow Jackets feel like it would be a surprise if they DIDN’T make take it a step further.
“I honestly think we’re a championship team this year and I think we can definitely do it the way that we’re playing,” said sophomore Paige Hourigan, who was named Third-Team All-ACC in singles, where she’s ranked No. 41 nationally, and is half of Tech’s No. 1 doubles team with senior Kendal Woodard, the No. 10 team in the nation. “We’re all really pumped and determined to be a championship team this year. Last year in the Final we weren’t even playing our best tennis and we were there. We’re excited and we know that we can come back with that ring.”
The Jackets made a strong opening argument in their quarterfinal on Friday, crushing Notre Dame, 4-0. The 11th-seeded Fighting Irish, looking to be this year’s destiny darling, found out that destiny sometimes takes a back seat to determination, or at least runs out of gas (they were playing for the third straight day). The Jackets steamrolled the Irish, as Johnnise Renaud and Rasheeda McAdoo, then Woodard and Hourigan each won 6-4, they then completed the whitewash, in singles behind, in order, Woodard (7-6, 6-1), fellow senior Natasha Prokhnevska (6-1, 6-3) and McAdoo (6-1, 6-4).
The third-seeded Jackets, are one win away from getting their shot at getting back to the Tournament Finals in back-to-back seasons for the first time since winning three straight Conference Titles from 2005-07. Standing in the way in second seed Miami.
The Jackets came to Cary, N.C., with a 16-7 record, 11-3 in ACC and on a hot streak, having won 10 of their final 12 matches and four of five down the stretch. They nearly made it 11 of 12 and five-for-five in the season finale, giving national No. 2 North Carolina all it could handle on Senior Day at the Byers Complex before finally falling, 4-3. Tech’s only two losses in those final dozen matches were 4-3’s, the other coming at No. 31 Virginia Tech on April 1.
Hourigan has been especially hot this spring. She’s ranked No. 41 by ITA Rankings in singles and has 12 wins in 13 completed singles matches in ACC play, including a 6-1, 6-1 road wipeout of No. 16 Julia Elbaba of Virginia — coincidentally her only loss was to Notre Dame’s Allison Miller, who was topped on Friday by McAdoo.
That lone singles loss is one more than she and Woodard have all season. The duo has dominated, and continue to get stronger. Since getting pushed to tiebreakers in two of their first three ACC doubles matches, they’ve allowed opponents three-or-fewer games eight times in the 11 matches that followed, during the season. That’s helped Tech dominate the doubles point, which they’ve now won 18 times this season — Tech is 16-2 in those matches. Playing their role in getting the team the early edge is cool.
So is cracking the National Top 10 — three spots higher than their highest spot last year, their first together.
“I’ve dreamed of being an All-American and the fact that I get to do it with Kendal in her senior year is pretty exciting,” said Hourigan. “As long as we keep it up we’re going to do it. So I’m happy to be in the top 10 and it’s very exciting.”
In fact, the week heading into ACCs was quite exciting around the Flats, as Hourigan was named ACC Co-Female Player of the Week for the season’s final week, she joined Jackets’ No. 1 Johnnise Renaud on the All-ACC Team, with Renaud, who’s ranked 42nd by ITA, with a 20-12 record, 13-8 in dual meets, 7-6 in ACC play, being named to the Conference First Team, she and Woodard earned top-10 status in doubles by ITA, and last, but certainly not least, Head Coach Rodney Harmon was recognized as ACC Coach of the Year.
To show how dominant Tech was against Notre Dame, they didn’t need either Hourigan or Renaud to finish their singles matches to get the job done.
So even though the Jackets won’t be sneaking up on Miami, who they meet next, or the winner of No. 4 Duke/No. 5 Virginia-No. 1 UNC, who meet in the other semifinal, they don’t feel they need to. They’re deep and determined.
“Everyone that goes out on the court is one point you can put up on the scoreboard,” Hourigan said. “So no matter when you play you’ve always got a chance to make something count. We know we’re ready going in.”
They’re not only ready to go further than they did last year, they’ve got a score to settle with the Hurricanes, who not only beat Tech on Jan. 29 in Coral Gables, but shut them out, 7-0.
Remember what they say about a woman scorned…especially these women.