The Michael McGuckin era at Rockdale County has officially begun after it was announced that he would be taking over the school’s tennis program after the exit of Karen Hartpence, who helped coach the girls to back-to-back region championships in 2018 and 2019.
McGuckin spent the 2019 season as an assistant coach under Hartpence and worked closely with both teams. Now in charge, McGuckin has enlisted the help of first-year assistant Bryant Blue and Alvin Allen to help lead the team into the 2020 season that starts in less than two weeks.
So far, McGuckin is enjoying his time on the job and is loving the help of coach Blue.
“Coach Blue is new to Rockdale this year, but he’s coached at other places and he’s a good 4-0 player,” McGuckin said. “We’ve got the same kind of mind and we’ve got an organized practice. That aspect has been really good. Coach Blue works a lot on technique and footwork. Now, we’ve got a step time for serves and a set time for drills for matchplay. We’re getting it together.”
On the girls’ side, the Bulldogs return their Top 2 singles players with junior Brianna Tyson and sophomore Jayln Jones, who served as the team’s 1-2 punch in last year’s Region 8-AAAAAAA championship win over Grayson.
While it has not yet been determined who will play in the No. 1 spot on match days, McGuckin is as confident as ever in his top two players heading into the season, as well as his new No. 3 singles player.
“I’ve been really excited for the girls,” McGuckin said. “The girls side is going to be great. We’re moving Taylor Curtis up to No. 3. She played a lot of doubles last year, but she’s probably going to slide into that No. 3 spot. With Brianna and Jayln at the top, that’s looking pretty good.”
Curtis is set to replace the lone graduate from last year’s team, Simone Thompson, who spent much of the season playing either No. 2 or No. 3 singles for the Bulldogs. In last year’s region championship, Thompson served as the Bulldogs’ No. 3 singles and won her match.
Tyson spent entire 2019 season as the Bulldogs’ No. 1 singles player and performed well. McGuckin is expecting much of the same heading into her junior season.
“She doesn’t like to be out on the court for a very long time,” McGuckin said. “At the same time we want to make sure that the focus is about the opponent and about improving the tennis, not so much about the time you’re on the court.”
With Jones, the freshman standout from one season ago is looking to take her game to the next level with one year of varsity tennis under her belt. McGuckin said her leadership qualities are beginning to shine through as well.
“Even being one of the younger ones on the team, I think she’s already a leader,” McGuckin said. “The girls recognize how much tennis experience she has and they can really model some of their improvements off of what she’s doing. In that respect, she’s going to be able to be a silent leader. Whether she turns into a vocal leader, we’ll see.”
The vast majority of the girls’ team will consist of juniors this season. Ava Bailey and Emily Kirkwood are both expected to play doubles for the Bulldogs, as well as several others.
“With the majority of the girls in the same grade, the team is starting to gel,” McGuckin said. “All four of the doubles starters, line one and two are all returners from last year. We had nine girls come back.”
With the 2020 season being the last time Rockdale will compete in Class AAAAAAA, McGuckin is pushing for a third straight region title before their change to Class AAAAAA next year.
“Our goal is very clear,” McGuckin said. “We want to win the region again before we leave. I haven’t seen anything different that tells me it will be different from last year.”
On the boys side, the Bulldogs will be without standout Daniel Vincent, who did not lose a match in two years at Rockdale playing in his No. 1 singles spot. Ready to slide into the No. 1 spot is AJ Rickman, who will look to anchor a boys team looking to reach the playoffs for the 10th year in a row.
“I’m pleasantly surprised and excited for the boys,” McGuckin said. “I know we don’t have Daniel the phenom anymore, but our team is going to be as strong or stronger on the boys this year. We’ve got some guys that are sliding in behind him that will hopefully be able to handle their business. David Gonzalez, who was brand new to tennis last year, is going to be a solid doubles player. He’s improved drastically, so that’s been fun to see.”
Overall, McGuckin said he is eager to get the season kicked off on Feb. 11 at home against Shiloh.
“We’re ready to get it going,” McGuckin said. “I’ll be happy to see the new ones and I think they’re ready. They’ve gelled more than I thought they would at the start. So far, so good on that. I’m pretty happy with where we’re at.”