Athens men’s tennis welcomes in promising new coach

Under new leadership, tennis team sends two players to regionals

Andreas Combos, Sports Editor

Tiffany Johnson, Athens Drive English Teacher, has stepped in to be the new head coach for the 2015 men’s tennis team. With Gene Thomas resigning after 13 years of  coaching the men’s and women’s teams, it has been a while since the program has seen a change.

Johnson formerly played tennis in high school when she lived in Topeka, Kansas. She gained tennis coaching experience at a sports camp, and has previously coached tennis at the middle school level. When given the opportunity to become a high school coach, Johnson did not hesitate.

“I’ve always wanted to pick back up with tennis, especially after having a tennis court in my backyard growing up,” said Johnson. “For awhile I was on a hiatus from the sport. It’s not a sport that you easily forget about.”

As the regular season comes to a close, the Jaguars have achieved a 2-7 record in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference (SWAC) under Johnson, winning matches against Fuquay and Apex, 5-4 and 7-2, respectively. Johnson has learned key necessities regarding the players in her experience as a coach thus far.

“The most important thing is to know your players and their needs at any given moment. I have made a point that as a team we model good sportsmanship and that we are fair across the board,” said Johnson. “Our team has a variety of personalities that seem to balance out well.”

With just four players returning to the roster, Johnson inherits the tennis program during a rebuilding year. By her side are captains Mark Zaccardelli and Patrick Newsome, both seniors, and Andreas Combos, junior. Johnson also has received assistance from the team managers, Olivia Diamond and Elena Price, both juniors.

“While it wasn’t easy to replace Coach Thomas, Ms. Johnson has done an awesome job stepping in,” said Zaccardelli. “Her commitment to the team hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

Following the captains, Josh Bracy, senior, Yugo Saito, junior and Bryan Chetwynd, freshman, round out the top six singles positions for the Jaguars. Tyler Brogan, junior, has played Court No. 3 doubles in place of Bracy.

The Jags will send Combos and Zaccardelli, its top two singles players, as well as its top two doubles teams to compete in the yearly SWAC conference tournament held at Cary Tennis Park. From this event, the competitors will have a shot at making it to the regional tournament.

Along with a new coach, the Jaguars will be getting new tennis courts for the first time in 15 years. The tennis courts were approved to be a part of the new stadium renovations project taking place in late spring. These will include an extensive treatment of slab repair, lining, as well as other additions.

“Ever since my freshman year, the courts were in bad shape,” said Zaccardelli. “Even though I will be graduating before the new courts are built, it’s exciting that the tennis program is going to be rejuvenated.”

Throughout the season, the men’s team has not been able to play any home matches due to the current unplayable condition of the Athens tennis courts. The Jaguars have had to travel for the entirety of the season. Johnson is excited for what the future holds with the new tennis courts coming into place.

“The new facility will be a huge deal for the program after not having new courts in awhile,” said Johnson. “It’s essential to have an environment that the parents and players truly want to be involved in. We will be able to wipe the slate clean and gain a sense of pride by playing at home.”