Jennifer Johnson is new to coaching the varsity boys’ tennis team at Princeton Day School, but she’s no stranger to the players.

After spending the past two years coaching the PDS middle school team, Johnson has stepped up and is coaching the varsity team this spring. The Panthers opened the season on Tuesday with an impressive 3-2 victory at Pennington.

Sophomore Aaron Phogat picked up a triumph at second singles, while the Panthers also picked up a victory at first doubles from sophomore Arron Chu and junior Eric Leung. They got the deciding third point when freshman Andrew Marshall won in three sets at third singles. 

“This year two of our top players, Neel (Adusmilli) and Andrew (Marshall) came up from the middle school and showd they could play right away,” Johnson said. “In the challenge matches, Aaron, Neel and Andrew were all very close. They all play a lot of USTA, so they play each other a ton and are very even. It’s great. Neel is a freshman and he came on and beat both Andrew and Aaron in the challenge matches and ended up at the top.”

Phogat was the Panthers’ No. 3 player last year and moved up and is slotted between the two freshmen. Chu and Leung form the top doubles team, while senior Shai Fruchter and sophomore Will Sedgley are the second doubles team.

“Aaron had a great win at Pennington,” Johnson said. “He took command of the court and stayed positive. Andrew Marshall’s match was the determining match. He lost the second set and then came back to win the third set so I was very proud of him from a mental standpoint. He got down after the second set which he lost, but he came back and won third set, 6-2. 

Pennington has some nice players and we know we will play them again. Their kids play nice games and match up well with us. It was an exciting match and great for us to pull it out.”

Johnson is enjoying her new role as the head coach.

She has a diverse tennis background as both a player and a coach. She played Division 1 tennis at Bradley University and Penn State University.

She also coached women’s tennis at Waynesburg University for six years and was named the President’s Athletic Conference Tennis Coach of the Year by her peers while at the Pennsylvania college.

In addition to coaching at PDS, she also coaches with the Princeton Tennis Program.

“It’s been a nice challenge,” Johnson said. “I lucked into it with Will Asch deciding to take a sabbatical. So I was able to step right in. I also have my assistant coach, Jon Brown. He was my assistant  for middle school and has been and assistant for tennis in the past. We both know the kids around the school and it is nice to follow them through. 

“It’s been an easy transition. I have missed coaching high school. I coached in high school for a number of years and it is nice to get back to coaching the strategy of the gam. It is different when you’re coaching in middle school because a lot of the time you are coaching technique and not just strategy.”

Johnson enjoys the opportunity to coach the strategy of the game, including doubles.

“Our doubles have looked very good,” she said. “Eric and Arron, either of them could step up and play singles. They had a solid match against Pennington and played well. It was a good win. Our second doubles, Shai didn't play last year. He’s from Israel and was ranked there. He just hasn’t played a lot of competitive tennis lately. He’s playing with Will who is quite an athlete. He also plays soccer. They communicate well. They had a tough loss. They had not played together so they need to get used to each other on the court.”

The Panthers’ goals will be the same this year as in years past, which are to compete for championships at the Mercer County Tournament and the state Prep B tournament.

“Coach Brown says every time we have practice or get on the bus that the two goals are prep states and the MCT,” Johnson said. “So we are really focused. The kids all have USTA experience which is important. They are used to the high pressure situations. So it is important to come together as a team. That was a big reason we won (Tuesday). The boys helped cheer each other on and really pulled together.”

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