Girls Tennis Coach of the Year: Johnson leads Warriors to another banner year

STEPHENS CITY — Last year Sherando’s girls tennis team finally earned a banner on the school wall in the gym. This year the Warriors have filled that banner up with accomplishments.

Sherando won the Northwestern District regular season title, the Conference 21 West tournament title and the Region 4A West tournament title. To top it off the Warriors were the Group 4A state runners-up.

“I knew there was a chance it could be another good season,” Shernado coach Trevor Johnson said. “I never let on to the girls how good I thought they could be. But I did tell them I said, ‘girls you all have the opportunity to do and repeat and be just as good as they were last year.’ And they showed that, and I think they went beyond that.”

Last year the Warriors advanced to the state semifinals before losing, 5-0, to eventual champion Midlothian. Johnson said he wasn’t happy with how his team played in that match and he let them know it.

This season Sherando ran into another very strong opponent in the state final — Hanover. The Hawks were led by Stephanie Broussard, who will be playing at West Virginia University next year.

Sherando lost 5-1 to Hanover in the state final, but Johnson said his team gave a much better effort than it did against Midlothian last year.

“I was very upbeat and happy (in the state final),” Johnson said. “It was one of those David and Goliath kind of things where everything had to be right and we could maybe win, but the odds were against us just because of the strength and the depth of Hanover. But those girls fought to the very end and I mean all of them and it was hot out there. I had a smile on my face even though we were losing just because I knew how well we were playing and how they were battling.”

Even though the Warriors finished with a 22-1 record the team had some adversity to face.

Sherando’s No. 1 singles player Alexa Venturato suffered a hip injury early in the season. She missed the last month of the regular season, and it was not known if she would be able to return for the postseason.

This forced Johnson into a very tough decision when it came to the postseason. The lineup has to be set before the postseason starts and it can not be changed. Johnson could either bump all of his players up a spot, and go without Venturato, or he could put Venturato in her usual spot in the lineup and substitute his No. 7 player into the No. 1 slot until she came back.

Johnson said he thought hard about the decision, and talked to Sherando director of student activities Jason Barbe as well as the team. He ultimately decided to put Venturato in the lineup with hopes that she would return.

“In the back of my mind I knew there was a chance that Alexa would be able to return,” Johnson said. “Some people didn’t think that, but I did think there was a chance. And because of that I just said I don’t want to punish my 3, 4, 5, 6 where they’ve played all season long for this when there’s a chance she could come back.”

Venturato did come back in the regional tournament and played the last four matches with the team, including a win in the state semfinals.

Johnson said he was also very proud of the way senior Terrian Jennings played filling in for Venturato. He said Jennings played hard and her game improved as she played a higher level of competition.

Another decision Johnson had to make was what to with the doubles teams with Venturato out. He decided to move junior Kathryn Robertson, who played at No. 4 singles, into the No. 1 doubles slot with senior Abby Sears, who played at No. 2 singles, and again the move paid off.

Robertson and Sears not only made a strong No. 1 doubles team in the team competition, but they also won the Conference 21 West individual doubles title. They advanced to the Group 4A individual doubles semifinals and were the Region 4A West individual doubles runners-up.

Sears also advanced to the Region 4A West individual singles tournament, where she lost in the quarterfinals.

In the state finals, Johnson said that his team had to play an almost perfect match to win and they almost did.

Three matches went three sets in the top singles spots, but only Robertson was able to pull her match out. Johnson said if they could have won the other three-setters they might have had a chance to pull off the upset.

Sherando loses four seniors, Sears, Meredith Gregg (No. 5 singles), Jennings and Darby Garner, to graduation from this year’s squad.

“I couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors,” Johnson said.

Sherando’s program has made strides quickly over the last two years, and the players need to put in even more time on the courts to take that final step, Johnson said.

“I want them to play more tennis,” Johnson said. “I think they do realize that in order to compete at that next level they need to step up a little too. And I think some of them realize that. Whether it’s conditioning or it’s playing more tennis or playing more competitive tennis I think they realize that.”