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#TGW: Strength in Numbers

Aug. 25, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Rodney Harmon is going to face a numbers problem this season.

“We have eight scholarship players and we’re going to play all eight,” said Harmon, beginning his third year as Georgia Tech women’s tennis head coach.

The problem — actually bumped up by one with Norcross, Ga., freshman walk-on Vooha Vellanki — is that Harmon can only play six at a time.

Don’t feel bad for him. He’s certainly not upset about the disparity. In fact, he welcomes having so many quality players battle each other for so few spots then unleash the winners on opposing teams.

“It’s never a bad thing to have competition,” said Harmon, who brings a record of 29-20, 16-9 in ACC play, into fall 2014 and whose teams have reached the NCAA Tournament both years (advancing both times), extending the program’s streak of Tournament appearances to 15. “This is something we really needed to do the last two years because we only had six players and we couldn’t afford to take a chance on somebody getting hurt. That’s going to change now because now. We will have the numbers to be able to rest some players so we should be in a better position to be our freshest in the toughest part of our schedule because everybody will hopefully get a rotation of rest in there, get a match off where we can still be able to be competitive because we’ve played such a tough schedule. That’s why we need eight scholarship players, eight really, really good players because if you take one good player out you need to put another really good player in.”

Harmon was especially pleased with his off-season haul on the recruiting trail, which brought highly regarded juniors players Johnnise Renaud (Miami, Fla.), Paige Hourigan (New Zealand), and Alexis Prokopuik, (West Vancouver, B.C.) to The Flats.

“I’m excited about all of them,” said Harmon. “They’re going to contribute right away. They all have played on the international level and have been successful. So they will push our returners. For us, the season starts on a blank slate. So if you played at No. 3 last year you’re not going to play No. 2 this year because somebody graduated.

“You’ve got to come and prove yourself and with nine really good players, you’ve got to come in every day and it’s not just what you do on the court,” he continued. “It’s what you do in the classroom, and what you do in the gym with Scott. So I think the competition should breed a pretty tough group of competitors, who should be ready to battle this year. It’s going to be an interesting year for us.”

The returning players won’t be rolling over and handing in their spots to the newbies, not with the likes of juniors Megan Kurey, voted team captain, Kendal Woodard, and Natasha Prokhnevska, and sophomores Rasheeda McAdoo, one of GT’s hottest players down the stretch last spring (wins in nine of her final 10 finished matches) and Alexa Anton-Ohlmeyer.

The depth will be put to the test right away, as Kurey will not play in the fall, although she will practice with the team.

“Megan courageously limped through last year because she knew we only had six players and we couldn’t afford to rest anybody,” Harmon said. “She limped through and played some phenomenal tennis. She played lights out but we’ve got to rest her. She’ll probably start hitting again in October and then play a little bit and get ready for January.”

That puts the onus on Woodard, Kurey’s doubles partner, and Prokhnevska to lead on the court. Harmon is expecting much better play in singles from Woodard.

“Kendal, her freshman year surprised all of us with her level and how well she played. Last year she didn’t play nearly as well as we would have hoped. She didn’t make the next move,” he said. “So this is going to be a very important year for her. She’s a really good player and we’re hoping that she’ll play high in the lineup but she’s going to really have to earn it because we have a lot of young ones, who are chomping at the bit for their opportunity.

“Natasha has just been solid, steady, a hard-worker, great student,” Harmon added. “She won a lot of tough matches for us. The better the player, the better she plays. So those three are really going to lead. Also, we’re looking for a big year out of our sophomores. Rasheeda made a huge move at the end of the year for us. Same thing with Alexa. She had some really bright moments last year but the sum of work was not what she expected and we know that she was the No. 12 recruit in the nation coming in here. This summer she played the way that we know she can play.”

Harmon said he expects his lineup selection process to favorably compare to a game of Musical Chairs, with nine players competing for six spots.

Getting that spot truly will be survival of the fittest, and the fitness portion of the preseason, led by Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott McDonald, has already begun. It began in on Monday morning…early Monday morning.

“We’re trying to build more endurance into our workouts, so the girls were on the track at 6:00 in the morning,” said Harmon. “They were running their 400s, 200s, 100s and just trying to fill that base for endurance. We’re also going to keep working on specific footwork movement patterns and stuff like that as well. We have a lot to do and I’m excited.”

It may sound harsh but Harmon reassured that the workouts aren’t anything the players haven’t seen before.

“This is standard. They know this is how you train. This is how you prepare,” he said. “They came in ready to go and that’s good. None of them was surprised by the running or the ferocity of the runs. The competition was to be at the front of the line. Obviously, we’ll do some fun things but we do our work first and we’ll have fun after.”

There is no such guarantee of future fun for Georgia Tech’s opponents.

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