If an award as given to the most improved girls tennis team in Montgomery County this fall, the honor would have to be bestowed on Quince Orchard High School.
A year ago at this time, the Cougars were languishing through an eventual 2-10 season that dropped them from Division II play to Division III, the lowest among the county’s three divisions.
Quince Orchard was a win away against Watkins Mill from winning the Division III title without a blemish in division play. The teams played Monday and the match ended too late to be included in this edition of The Gazette.
The Cougars, in fact, entered the week riding an eight-match win streak to put its record at 8-1 with three regular season matches remaining before the Montgomery County championship meet.
Much of the credit for the turnaround, Cougars ace Angela Kuriacose believes, should be given to first-year coach Jana McDanald, a professional tennis instructor who brings a plethora of playing and coaching experience to the program.
“We learn more and we do play a lot more tennis than we did in previous years,” Kuriacose said. “It’s fun to be good at something. I have had a different coach every year on the tennis team and she is the only one focusing on fitness and teaching us skills.
“Going down to Division III, we weren’t expecting that. We knew we had a bad season [in 2011], but we didn’t think that bad. Going back to Division II will be really nice,” Kuriacose said. The team would move back up to Division II play by winning the Division III crown.
McDanald actually joined the Quince Orchard coaching staff last spring, taking over the school’s boys team at the behest of numerous current and former players who have worked with the new coach as a private instructor.
“I run classes and clinics and several of my students have been on the QO team in the years past,” McDanald said. “One of them told me that the school doesn’t have a coach. The kids said I should consider the coaching position. I said, ‘Let me think about it.’ … but they kept bugging me and bugging me so I talked to the [athletic director].”
Quince Orchard boys No. 1 singles player Alex Lee is certainly glad that persistence brought McDanald to Quince Orchard. The boys team produced a 9-3 record a year ago and finished second in its division.
“Coach Jana is a superb coach,” Lee said in an e-mail. “She never gives up on the team no matter how tough the situations might be. Everyone on the team improved greatly, especially new players that have only played for less than half a year. She understands what each person's weaknesses are and tries to help us out with it.
“Because of coach, our team morale was at an all-time high. The players enjoyed the game and wanted to improve on it even more. Coach has led our team to success because she is constantly trying to invent ways to help not only our team grow, but to help individuals discover their love for the game.”
McDanald’s extensive background includes a four-year professional career in Europe. She started at age 14 in her native Czech Republic competing in both the Czech National Tennis Circuit and the Professional Women’s Tennis Tour. As her professional playing career slowed, she was recruited to play collegiate tennis at both Eastern Illinois University and Hampton (Va.) University.
McDanald, who is certified by the United States’ Professional Tennis Association and the Czech Tennis Federation, was charged with developing the tennis program at Rock Creek Swim & Tennis Club. She also served as a director of junior and adult tennis programs and camps at the Georgetown Prep Tennis Club. She is currently in her second year as an independent tennis instructor in the county.
“I love it,” said McDanald of coaching high school tennis again. She previously guided the Academy of the Holy Cross for three seasons, compiling a 14-2 record. “It’s a very different part of tennis. I teach clinic and lessons but that’s only once a week. It’s so much more rewarding to work with the same group of kids on a daily basis. You see the progress.
“Both teams did not have much tennis instruction before. Some of them go to classes or clinics but as far as school … it’s very rare to have a team that actually has a tennis pro as a coach. My full-time job is tennis instruction.”
McDanald intends to keep her side job for a while as well.
“Oh definitely,” she said. “I live right behind the football stadium and I have two step daughters who go to the school. Both are freshmen. One is on the field hockey team [Ashley McDanald] and one runs cross country [Megan McDanald]. I’m definitely planning on coaching the teams for years to come.”