By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
There were Yellow Jackets in the air Friday afternoon at Georgia Tech, where Johnnise Renaud and her 12th-ranked tennis teammates jumped, jumped and jumped some more after she clinched a 4-2 win over the No. 6 Bulldogs.
A sizable crowd was particularly loud after her unusual 6-3, 7-6 (1-1) win over Elena Christofi ended with a default because the chair umpire for their match at No. 3 singles overruled Christofi for a fifth time in the match in Tech’s first outdoor contest this season.
Joy on the courts at the Ken Byers Tennis Complex was pure, spreading into the stands among fans, and then carrying over into the locker room as head coach Rodney Harmon met with players.
Renaud and fellow senior Paige Hourigan were especially happy about the last match before the Jackets begin ACC play Sunday at No. 19 Florida State.
“The mood in the locker room was much higher than a regular match,” Renaud said. “This is great momentum for us, especially beating them two years in a row.
“For me and Paige this was a really big deal. I feel all of us were happy to get the win especially since they’re ranked higher than us. They’re very decorated with their wins and getting far in the NCAA Tournaments.”
Beating Georgia (5-2) is always a big deal for Tech (6-1) of course, and Harmon considers it all the better because the Bulldogs are not only rivals, but standard bearers.
UGA head coach Jeff Wallace is the winningest coach in college women’s tennis, with 701 team victories in 33 seasons with two NCAA titles and three national indoors championships. The Bulldogs have finished with a top 10 national ranking in 28 of the previous 32 seasons.
“For us it’s great because it gives you a real picture of where you are and what you need to improve going into the ACC season,” Harmon said. “Everyone around here knows it because Georgia Tech and Georgia are such rivals.
“We have so much respect for their program . . . If you can play well against them, you have a good team.”
Tech jumped to a quick lead while winning the doubles point after the No. 4-ranked duo of Hourigan and sophomore Kenya Jones topped No. 11 Christofi/Morgan Coppoc 6-4 on court No. 1 and Renaud and freshman Ida Jarlskog topped Georgia’s Annette Goulak/Kennedy Shaffer 7-5 on court No. 3.
The Jackets moved to a 3-0 lead on the strength of wins by sophomore Nami Otsuka on court No. 6, where she beat Goulak 6-1, 6-3, and by Jones, who on court No. 4 beat Coppoc 6-2, 6-3.
“The key for us is we have really good depth,” Harmon said. “The difference between our No. 1 and No. 6 is not that much.”
Georgia pulled within 3-2 when No. 6 Katarina Jokic edged No. 25 Hourigan on court No. 1 and No. 53 Shaffer edged No. 83 Jarlskog on court No. 2.
Before long, Renaud clinched the match and triggered the joy. After losing her previous five matches all indoors at No. 2, she was happy to move outside.
“I would say that going forward with it being our first match outdoors, this is great momentum for us, especially beating them two years in a row,” she said. “I was very upset going on a losing streak. Being able to snap it against Georgia, this is a big confidence boost going forward and hopefully I can gain something out of it . . .
“I love it outside. I’m from Miami, and we don’t even have indoor facilities in Florida so moving outside, I’m ready to go.”
The Jackets don’t have long to celebrate. They traveled Saturday in order to open ACC play Sunday at noon at Florida State. Next, the Jackets will play host to Virginia on Friday and Louisville next Sunday.
“We played well. We’re going to have to play that well on Sunday as well,” Harmon said. “We have to take what we did well, get down to Tallahassee, practice a little bit, iron out some things we didn’t do quite as well and get ready for a huge match. We always have tough matches against FSU. Their crowd is always crazy.”