JACKSON TWP. Now the members of the Jackson girls tennis team know.
Their head coach, Jennifer Janson, has had a solid run leading the program, including a 19-2 record (5-1 Federal League) and second-place finish in the Federal League this season. But prior to last month, the Polar Bears received a reminder that their coach can also play the game she teaches, as Janson and her team from Oxford Racquet Club competed at the USTA Tennis Championships in Dallas.
"The older girls on team probably know more about me than incoming freshman. They know coach can still play, but they’re not really sure at what level," Janson said.
Janson’s team won its state tournament, then went on to the regional championships in New Jersey and advanced to the national tournament in Dallas. During the high school season, Janson hits with her players at practice and she credited those times of working on the court with the Polar Bears with helping get her ready for playing in the tournament.
It’s the second time in four years Janson’s team has made it to nationals, but the first time since she gave birth to her youngest child.
She admitted that getting back to playing at a high level was something she wanted to do after having a baby.
"This is my second time at nationals but I hadn’t been there since two years ago and then I had my baby, so getting back again and playing at that level means a lot," Janson said.
Her team made it to the national tournament along with teams from Texas, Puerto Rico and California, with the event’s format consisting of two singles matches and three doubles matches for teams in every contest. That flips the numbers from the format of a typical high school match in which Janson coaches, where teams have three singles matches and two doubles matches, putting a total of seven competitors in action.
With an extra doubles match, the USTA tournament game teams eight players in each match. Playing doubles has long been a strength as opposed to singles action, Janson said, but getting to Texas wasn’t the simplest proposition.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament’s district round was the same weekend at the USTA tournament and with four Jackson players in the district tournament, Janson had to coach and then find a way to get herself to Texas in a hurry.
"I knew it was going to be a crazy weekend. I didn't book my trip until our girls were out of the district tournament, so I booked my flight three hours from departing," Janson said. "Coaching was my main priority so if our girls were still in the tournament, my plan was to fly to Texas for a day, then fly back to coach."
In the end, all of Jackson’s players were out of the tournament by the time Janson flew to Texas, so she was able to stay there for the duration of the tournament. She described the district tournament as a "bad draw" for the Polar Bears, giving them a difficult road to try to walk in order to reach the state tournament.
Being able to play at a high level even though she is several years removed from her days as a standout at the University of Toledo served as an encouraging sign and one Janson hopes will illustrate a valuable lesson for the players she coaches.
"I’m not at that top notch where I was in college, but I think it’s a great thing to teach young girls because your job as a coach is to win, but also to help them fall in love with a sport they can play and enjoy for the rest of their life," Janson said. "After college and when you’re in your 20s especially, you can sometimes forget who you are, but I think you can find yourself on the tennis court."
It’s a lesson Janson enjoys and wants to keep teaching her team, something she does even though she and her family moved to Pennsylvania a year ago. During the season, she commutes to Ohio and stays with her parents so she can coach. Those long drives are a regular part of her schedule, so flying to Texas at the last minute was simply par for the course.
After another successful season for the Polar Bears and a memorable USTA experience for herself as a player, Janson believes more success is ahead in both respects.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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