April 24, 2019

Johnson Taking Helm of PDS Boys’ Tennis, Bringing Vast Experience, Focus on Teamwork

By Bill Alden

Jennifer Johnson possesses a world of experience, literally, when it comes to the game of tennis.

Growing up in West Virginia, Johnson took up the game at an early age and went on to play Division I tennis at Penn State and Bradley University. She served as a team captain and played No. 1 singles for Bradley as a senior in 1989.

She later coached the Waynesburg University women’s tennis team for six years from 1993-99 and was named as the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) coach of the year in 1994.

With her husband being transferred Europe for his work, Johnson ended up coaching in Zurich, Switzerland and London, England.

Coming to Princeton in 2016, Johnson started working with the Princeton Tennis Program (PTP). That connection led her to becoming the Princeton Day School middle school boys’ and girls’ tennis coach.

This spring, Johnson has moved into the role of head coach for the PDS boys’ varsity squad, taking over for Will Asch, who is on sabbatical.

While Johnson brings a wealth of knowledge of tennis to her role, she is more focused on key intangibles as she takes the helm.

“For a high school team, it is all about teaching teamwork, teaching attitude, and teaching sportsmanship,” said Johnson.

“Anybody who is on the varsity team also works with someone privately. It is not my job to change their strokes, I can make stroke corrections and we can talk strategy. My job is to teach them how to play tennis as a team; they are used to just playing tournaments, which is very different.”

Her tenure as the middle school coach has eased the transition at the next level.

“Most of them are used to me so it has been very positive,” said Johnson.

“They know about my background, they know that I am no nonsense. I do like to have a good time. They want an interactive environment, doing something different, keeping that focus and making it fun. When we do a drill, I discuss why we are doing the drill.”

The Panthers are developing a supportive environment. “They really are coming together as a team; they are cheering each other on,” said Johnson.

“If one player gets down, they are making sure they get him back up in a more positive frame of mind.”

Freshman Neel Adusmilli is showing good frame of mind, playing at first singles.

“Neel is very even keeled; it is always tough to play No. 1 because you are always playing strong players,” said Johnson.

“It is really hard to stay positive, but he just has this innate ability to bounce back. He is just really strong mentally. He might get down on himself during a match, but then he comes off the court and he is able to kick it back into normal. He is more of a baseline guy, but if he sees the opportunity he comes into the net.”

Another freshman, Andrew Marshall, brings some fire to second singles.

“Andrew gets very emotional; I am working really hard on using that emotion as a positive,” said Johnson.

“You can use that energy one of two ways – you can fall apart because you are emotional because you get upset over a shot or you can use it to get fired up. He has made that turn. He had a tough first match; he wasn’t playing real well but he fought it out and won in the third set. That made a big difference; he came back and won the next match really easily.”

Sophomore Aaron Phogat is showing a big game so far this spring. “Aaron is very verbal and likes to communicate; he is more of an aggressive player,” said Johnson.

“He has the ability to just get into the zone; you just let him play. He is one of those players I don’t talk to when he is playing unless he wants me to.”

Sophomore Arron Chu and junior Eric Leung started off the season at first doubles.

“They have a great chemistry; they communicate so well,” said Johnson. “They hit hard, they force errors, they hit winners.”

Senior Shai Fruchter began the spring anchoring second doubles, but injuries have forced Johnson to shuffle her lineup.

Fruchter has played some first doubles with sophomore Will Sedgley, senior Jake Harris, sophomore Mark Santamaria, and freshman Albert Ming filling in at different spots over the last few weeks.

With the Mercer County Tournament starting on April 29, Johnson is confident that the Panthers can make an impact at the competition.

“I really think that there are certain kids on the team who can really do some damage at the upper levels,” said Johnson, whose squad is 2-2 in dual match play and hosts Peddie on April 24, plays at Haverford School (Pa.) on April 25 and then hosts Haddonfield on April 27.

“Our kids are in good shape, having fewer matches leading into it is helpful for us. It is going to be tough for Neel because No. 1 is so difficult. The fact that we have the some depth at No 2 and No. 3 works to our advantage.”