Tennis Success Is A Family Tradition For Trojans’ Johnson

At right are the Section VI singles and doubles qualifiers for today’s Section VI championships.
P-J file photo by Scott Kindberg

At right are the Section VI singles and doubles qualifiers for today’s Section VI championships. P-J file photo by Scott Kindberg

Mikayla Johnson knows all about what it is like to have an undefeated season on the tennis court; she’s had two of those the past two years.

She also knows what it’s like to make it all the way to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships, a feat accomplished a year ago along with doubles teammate Olivia Persia. But this year the Southwestern senior will be entering the postseason walking a different path.

Starting today, Johnson will pursue a run towards the state championships all on her own in the singles division, as she enters the Section VI tournament as a No. 4 seed.

“That would be so much fun,” Johnson said of qualifying for the state tournament again. “Going to states, it was unbelievable. We didn’t expect anything (last season). We did lose our first match. We had a chance of winning it, but we just weren’t playing our best, (but) we knew that we could do it.”

It was around this time last year that Johnson and Persia, who now owns the Lady Trojans’ second singles spot, made their way to the Sound Shore Indoor Tennis Center in Port Chester to take on Katerina Atallah and Maggie Bonomo from Fayetteville out of Section III.

While the match may have gone in favor of the latter pair, the experience for Johnson and Persia was certainly one that has laid the foundations for this season’s success. While Johnson has another undefeated regular season under her belt, the senior also has the benefit of a strong family tradition aiding her in all the success of the past few years.

This season’s Chautauqua County Athletic Association singles title is the fourth that now belongs to the Johnson family, after Mikayla’s brother, Matt, claimed a pair of championships for the Trojans in 2013 and 2014, and sister, Morgan, earned the title in 2013.

While plenty of local players have made their way to the Section VI tournament and beyond to the state level over the years, four county singles titles going to one family in a decade is an accomplishment of another order.

“We all started when we were 4, playing with my parents and then here at the (YMCA),”said Johnson. “I think we just push through and don’t give up. Like I lost a couple games, and I just try to be consistent and get the ball back and try and push through it. I play a lot different from my brother, but my sister and I are basically the same. We’re really consistent, so we try to get every ball back. But in sectionals I’m going to try some new shots and hit harder because the competition there is going to be a lot tougher, so I’m going to try some new things.”

A large part of the Johnson family success can be attributed to the YMCA tennis program, including its present and past staff. In his many years as YMCA tennis director, Paul Young coached all three Johnson children, while YMCA director Tom Anderson has always offered lessons and coaching advice to local players before taking over as full-time coach for the Lady Trojans this fall.

“I take lessons from Tom Anderson, and also hit with Tyler (Beaton) who is the director here. Ever since I was 4, I’ve been taking lessons at the Y.”

“I think the YMCA program was instrumental in a lot of that,” said Mike Johnson, Mikayla’s father. “(The kids) have a lot of fun there. It just kind of was natural for them from there.”

Consistency is just one part of Johnson’s game that has yielded results, but it is certainly a big part.

During her battle at counties with Bernie Gens of Fredonia, Anderson counted an 85-ball rally between the two players.

“All the rallies were going that way when they played up in Fredonia, and that’s a good thing to have,” Anderson said. “Kind of the unique characteristic of her is she can be a very offensive player. She has a good serve, she hits hard ground strokes, she comes to the net, is a good volleyer, but she is also a very consistent player, so she can take on more of a defensive position, not trying to out-hit the player. Not that she is totally defensive, (but) she can out-hit a lot of players with her consistency.”

While it has been consistency that got her to “the dance,” Johnson knows that at this point in the season the level of play starts to rise, demanding more out of players that hope to advance.

Only the top three finishers from the section will make their way to Tri-City Tennis Club in Latham for this year’s state tournament, which means that Johnson is going to have to take some chances to punch her ticket.

First on the schedule for the senior will be Caitlin Palys, the No. 8 Erie County Interscholastic Conference seed out of Iroquois.

Among the seeds ahead of Johnson is No. 1 Madigan Humiston out of Orchard Park, who took home second place at last year’s sectionals.

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Joining Johnson at Miller Tennis Center in Williamsville today will be Jenna Hayes of Maple Grove, who has the No. 4 seed coming out of the CCAA. Hayes will have her work cut out for her against top-seeded Humiston.

“Hayes has a very versatile game,” said Lakewood YMCA tennis director Tyler Beaton. “She is consistent from the baseline, but jumps on short balls and closes out points well at the net.”

Also making the trip north will be Gens, who finished second overall behind Johnson at this year’s county tournament. Gens will face off against ECIC No. 7 Courtney Kessler of Williamsville North, while teammate Kelsey Vianese will meet ECIC No. 3 Paige Szmusiak out of Lancaster.

Joining Hayes on the trip to Williamsville will be Red Dragon teammates Maddy Collins and Elise Swanson. The pair have earned the top CCAA seed after taking home the CCAA doubles championship, and will meet the eighth-ranked ECIC tandem of Leah Heiler and Corrie Bartos.

“They have a well-balanced playing style, with the ability to keep points alive until an offensive opportunity presents itself,” said Beaton. “They also have the confidence and experience to take advantage of an opportunity.”

Persia will have a chance to return to the NYSPHAA Championships this year as she enters sectional play with doubles teammate Hiba Munir. The pair carries the No. 2 CCAA seed and will meet the ECIC No. 6 team of Teresa Lin and Jamie King.

Zayba Chauhdry and Kara Howard of Olean will meet the ECIC No. 5 tandem of Kareen Cheruvu and Richelle Yu, while Nicole and Macy Youngberg of Falconer will face off against the ECIC No. 2 seed team of Caroline Bolton and Chloe Esch.

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