By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
For as different as Paige Hourigan and Johnnise Renaud may be, Georgia Tech’s senior tennis players are similar in their approach to Sunday’s ACC finale — the final regular season home match of their illustrious careers.
When the third-ranked Yellow Jackets (19-4, 11-2 ACC) meet Clemson (13-11, 6-7) at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex in a 2 p.m. contest that weather may force indoors, it won’t be a big deal on a sentimental level. Or at least that’s what they said recently.
The Tigers have been playing well, and they’re fresh off an upset win Friday at No. 22 Virginia, so Tech’s lone seniors vow to be more locked in on that than reflection.
“I don’t really like to think about it. I think it starts to get emotional when you think about it,” Hourigan said.
“Coach [Rodney Harmon] came up to me the other day and was like, ‘One month until graduation,’ and I was like, Wow! Somebody’s counting, but I’m not. I haven’t been really thinking about it.”
Hourigan’s much better at controlling her emotions than when she arrived nearly four years ago from New Zealand. Renaud is more mature as well.
“There’s been a few times where I stopped to think about it, but I feel like college was just one step closer to my career overall, so I don’t really think of it as anything negative, just another milestone,” she explained. “Just going onto the next chapter. I try not to dwell on this is coming to an end.”
The Jackets are tied for second in the ACC standings with No. 1 North Carolina, whom they beat 4-3 earlier this season, and just behind No. 4 Duke, whom Tech also beat earlier this year.
Renaud and Hourigan may be acting like this will not be a big deal, but they’ve been big deals, and they’ve been part of many huge moments with the Jackets.
That was the Jackets’ second consecutive win over the Tar Heels — both in Chapel Hill. Last year’s win snapped UNC’s 50-match home winning streak, and a 36-match ACC winning streak. North Carolina hasn’t lost a home match, nor an ACC match, except when Tech visited last month.
The Jackets also have back-to-back wins over long-time NCAA women’s tennis powerhouse Georgia. The only other time Tech beat UGA in consecutive seasons was in 2005-’06. That group of women won three ACC titles and an NCAA championship.
These Jackets are in the record books alongside those Jackets.
With records of 88-45 in singles and 100-26 in doubles, Hourigan is 10th and third in program history in career wins, respectively. Her .794 doubles percentage is No. 1
They’ve been consistently successful at Georgia Tech while changing, growing over time.
Renaud will graduate in a couple weeks with a degree in Literature, Media and Communications, and then after Tech’s postseason return home to North Miami to begin a career as a professional tennis player. She’s different now.
“Oh, as a person. That’s why I came to college,” she explained. “I had the option to go pro at 18 years old, but you come to college to mature as a person. When you’re on the pro tour, you’re surrounded by grown women so you need to have that mindset.
“I was home-schooled since I was in seventh grade, and I had my mom to look over me and manage my time and tell me, ‘OK, this is what you have to do and you’ve got to go here and go here.’ College forces you to manage your time.”
Hourigan said, “I feel like I came to college because I was immature,” she said. “Having guidance from Rodney, and my teammates, it’s just been great. I’ve definitely matured and become a better person.”
Hourigan is looking forward to her parents watching her play Sunday and in the ACCs, which begin Wednesday in Cary, N.C., for just the second time in her college career. She may return to Turakina, New Zealand for a minute, but once she turns professional after graduating, she’ll still be around.
Maybe that’s why she’s not so emotional. She and fellow New Zealander Erin Ratliffe, who graduated from Alabama last spring, plan to make Atlanta their training base, much like former men’s players Kevin King and Christopher Eubanks.
“I feel like in a sense, I’m not as emotional as I should be because I know that I’ll be back frequently,” Hourigan said.
Both student-athletes so look forward to finishing classwork, which Renaud said will be like, “half the weight off your shoulders,” yet they’re wistful about what they’ll leave behind. Teammates, coaches, trainers, sports medicine staff . . . all of that and more.
“I’m definitely going to miss the girls, miss the college atmosphere, and playing for one another versus being on the pro tour and playing for yourself,” Renaud said. “I’m definitely going to miss the team aspect, and the people who care about you.
“There’s only a few people in the world who care about you, and Rodney and [assistant coach] Christy [Lynch] and those people care about you . . . having [strength and conditioning coach] Scott McDonald there, [sports medicine intern] Sarah [Eisenhunt] there, having to go to and whine to about any little thing. It’s a luxury.”
Hourigan, who plays right-handed, and Renaud, who is a lefty, are alike in ways.
“I’m going to miss the whole team environment. When you’re on the pro circuit, you have your friends that you hang out with but it’s not specifically a team aspect,” Hourigan said. “I’ll definitely come back and visit because I’m going to use Georgia Tech as my home base when I’m in North America.”