CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - And with this final week of the Georgia Institute of Technology summer vacation, we find ourselves at the final non-revenue team on the Flats. I originally set out to end on a high note, and, as far as our non-rev teams go, only golf and women’s tennis really went out and tore up the turf last spring. So, without further adieu, I present to you fair readers from the rumble seat the national semifinalist women’s tennis team.
In the past few weeks, my travels have taken me far and wide. Be they from finding fellow From the Rumble Seat contributors in San Francisco - by the way, the Oakland Coliseum is a subpar place to catch a ballgame, even more so when you’ve visited AT&T Park not three hours earlier - or taking Thermodynamics finals in France, none took the wind out of me quite like an interaction in the line for Passport Control at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. It was pretty easy to tell this girl was a tennis player, because she was carrying approximately a million tennis rackets in her backpack. Her shirt read Vanderbilt. And as I rounded the corner, I could hear some guy asking her about her team’s season. Of course, as the national runner-up, the response was effusive. Seeing as how they ended Tech’s fine run at a national championship tantalizingly short of the ultimate prize, Vanderbilt women’s tennis remains somewhat of a sore subject. Tech had a great year, to be sure, but they ran into a Vanderbilt team that played better than them. Ultimately, losing the doubles point put Tech in a hole despite having three solid doubles pairs, and the Jackets fell 4-2 to the Commodores, but the real question is how did we get to the final four? And, more importantly, how do we get back?
Tech’s season began in Durham at the Duke Invitational in the fall, and continued with the Sumter 25K. Tech made a run in the fall ITA championships and also appeared in the LSU Invitational in Baton Rouge. Their play was solid and indicative of the nice little season they were putting together.
The Jackets kicked off the spring season deep in the doldrums of winter up in Ann Arbor at the Michigan Invitational. They had an uncharacteristically average weekend, but, fortunately, that wouldn’t set the tone for the next few months. No long after that, they kicked off the indoor season by rattling off four straight wins, against South Florida, Denver, Oregon, and Michigan. They were playing well in the ITA bracket until they fell to then-no. 6 ranked Pepperdine. Tech bounced back quickly, however, taking a match against then-no. 3 Florida in the consolation round of the ITA Indoor National Championships.
Tech again won four straight to begin the collegiate season, starting from an always-satisfying victory over the school in Athens. This was followed by conference play, where Tech took close victories over Florida State and Virginia before absolutely demolishing Louisville at home.
It seems as if someone in the Edge Building got a good deal on flights to Chicago, as Northwestern was the hot non-conference opponent for the Jackets across non-revenue sports this year. Unlike the swimmers, however, Tech couldn’t steal a victory on the road and fell to the then-no. 8 Northwestern Wildcats. However, facing top ten talent in the regular season does well to forge a team for a deep playoff run, as Tech would soon show.
Though they lost another match to Miami at home after falling to the Wildcats, they followed up those two losses with another extended winning streak, sweeping Cornell before also knocking off top ten Texas Tech and then-no. 1 North Carolina on the road, and North Carolina State and Notre Dame to boot.
Tech lost another puzzler to a middling Syracuse team but again bounced right back with a triumph over then-no. 3 Duke, part of a six game winning streak that took the Jackets to the end of the regular season.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference championships, the Jackets were able to win into the semifinals, but fell to North Carolina in a rematch of that early season upset. However, the Jackets still secured a home regional in the NCAA national championship bracket. They made the most of that opportunity, sweeping Winthrop and Eastern Kentucky, after conveniently avoiding a decent Auburn team.
Tech followed that up with sweet revenge over the Pepperdine Waves in the Sweet Sixteen. Though they lost the doubles point, Tech bounced back to win 4-3 in the first neutral site round of the tournament. The story was pretty similar in the Elite Eight, with Tech again uncharacteristically losing the doubles point for the second game in a row, this time to The Fighting Chip Kelly’s, Women’s Tennis Edition, before the dancing stopped against the aforementioned Vanderbilt team in the Final Four.
Tech saw the last of seniors Paige Hourigan and Johnnise Renaud on the Flats when the last point ended the Winthrop game in the tournament. Of course, the team won two more matches and Hourigan played in both the individual entry singles and doubles championships, but their time at Tech has expired. Adding the transfer of Ida Jarlskog to Florida to the mix is another unfortunate loss for the Jackets. Jarlskog, a freshman, played very strongly for Tech, especially down the stretch, including clinching the winning point against UCLA in the Elite Eight. Replacing Tech’s number one singles player, who is also half of the number one doubles pair, as well as a very solid young player, is a tall order for coach Rodney Harmon.
However, he did a great job of putting last year’s team together and there’s no saying he can’t do it again. His incoming class is ranked number six in the country and features three players, Valeriya Deminova, Baijing Lin and Dalila Said. All international, Lin and Deminova are ranked in the International Tennis Federation top 100 for junior players.
Harmon’s team went 25-6 last year. They peaked at no. 2 in the country. That’s a special run right there. However, the loss of Hourigan and Renaud stings, and is made worse by losing the last three years of the highly talented Jarlskog. But the top six should again be a nice lineup next year, even without the punch of the number one doubles pairing in the country. Staying healthy is going to be a big part of the Tech women’s tennis team’s ultimate destiny next season. The schedule always features some tough tests, both from the ones inherent in playing the rigorous top tier of the ACC schedule, as well as facing quality competition from a well-constructed non-conference schedule and the ITA tournaments. The Jackets won’t suffer from a lack of opportunity next year. Rather, fitting in to this weird new normal without their transcendent best player in Hourigan and the unfortunate loss of the extremely bright young talent in Jarlskog will be the storyline to watch. But Harmon and his staff found good recruits. They’ve shown solid player development in the past. It’s hard to make it to the Final Four in any sport - just ask any long suffering Loyola-Chicago fan how long they went between appearances - we can’t demand our third-ever appearance in women’s tennis to immediately follow the second. Tech won’t be bad next year. The staff here at From the Rumble Seat roughly pegs Tech back at number three in the conference, behind North Carolina and Duke. That’s not a bad finish.
The future may be a bit dimmer this year on the Flats, but there’s not a lot standing the way of Tech putting together at least another solid season. The recruiting is solid. The team is experienced. The coaching is proven. Keep this team in the quartet of women’s teams on the north end of Fowler Street that really seem like they could have memorable years this year. Play starts sooner than you think. But, especially in the spring, it would be well worth your time to take a spin to the Ken Byers Tennis Complex for a match.
Coming up next week: Yellow Jacket Roundup is back.
And this concludes From the Rumble Seat’s weekly look into the state of the non-revenue sports. We made it back to sports. It was a long summer, but here comes volleyball with football hot on its heels. In fact, the White and Gold Scrimmage was Sunday at O’Keefe Gymnasium. Stay tuned for a look into that and more - I hope - next week as we return to that beautiful time on the Flats: the new season. Hope springs eternal. As always, fell free to leave any questions, comments, and feedback below. Go Jackets.