Last year at this time, Grafton resident Emily Witt was not only promoted to Magnificat’s “A” girls tennis team, she was also given the coveted first singles slot.
Playing first singles for a program as steeped in tradition as Magnificat isn’t just given to anyone, especially to a sophomore who hadn’t played a varsity match yet.
But now, heading into her junior year, Witt has made Blue Streaks coach Chris Johnson look like genius.
“It was totally new to me since it was my first year on Mags’ varsity ‘A’ team,” Witt said. “Filling in the first singles spot after all of those great players before me was a bit overwhelming. Since I didn’t know what to expect, I was just able to play. I wasn’t really nervous. I just went out and gave everything I had.”
Turns out she had plenty. Witt went 22-7 last season against a tough schedule that pitted her against some of the best players in the state week in and week out.
She also finished second in both the Division I sectional and district tournaments at Oberlin College and qualified for the state tournament — the only Lorain County player to do so.
“I thought she might be able to get that first singles spot (last season) and do a good job, but she did a phenomenal job,” said Johnson, entering his seventh year coaching Magnificat. “She played a lot of USTA tennis over the summer and lost to some of the girls that she wound up beating during high school season, and that in itself was an impressive feat.
“It was like our season was her personal revenge tour, and to see her beat those girls after losing to them just a month before was impressive.”
Witt’s Columbus debut didn’t last long, unfortunately, as she lost 6-2, 6-4 to Lakota East junior Taylor Holden in her first-round match at state. Even though it was brief, she took a lot out of the experience.
“I learned what my weaknesses were,” Witt said. “I saw how I needed to improve so I could win in the first round and go deeper into the bracket.
“I’m really excited for this season. I’ve been really working hard this whole offseason. I feel like I’ve prepared myself. (Coaches) Todd (Ashdown) and Chris have prepared me as well. I can’t wait.”
Ashdown is the boys varsity coach at St. Edward and serves as Witt’s personal coach during the offseason. Considering the close relationship between the two schools, Ashdown and Johnson work in conjunction with each other.
“I train with Todd at the Paramount Tennis Club in Westlake,” Witt said. “I started working with Todd this year and he’s coached numerous state champions before. I feel like he and Chris have both taken my game to a higher level than it was last year. They’ve given me a lot of confidence going into this season.
“Every practice I have, (Johnson) pushes me out of my comfort zone. I’ve become a stronger, mentally tougher player and I’ve added some new shots to my game.”
Along with the added lessons with Ashdown, Witt also works out locally at Mike D’Andrea’s Traq Performance Institute in Avon year round to better prepare her for the rigors of the tennis season. She also still plays in USTA tournaments during the summer.
“My goal this year is to have a solid regular season at first singles and I’m really looking forward to our tough schedule,” Witt said. “We play the top teams in the state, including the defending state champions in Columbus. I hope to do well in those matches and I hope that helps me prepare for the postseason.
“Hopefully, I can get a good ranking at districts so I can be a good seed. I want to be at least in a top four spot at state and not lose in first round like I did as a sophomore.”
Johnson has noticed improvements in Witt’s game since last year.
“She’s extremely patient, especially in setting up the point,” he said. “She’s in tremendous physical condition, so she can outlast anybody out there. She’s really worked hard in the offseason with her transition game. She can go from playing defense to transitioning to the offensive game when opportunity arises.”
Johnson’s goals for Witt are simple.
“I guess, obviously, if you go to state one year, you want to return,” he said. “But really, I just want her to feel like she’s improved from last year and can play to the best of her ability. I want her to do better mentally with losses or when she’s not playing well, but can overcome it and have the will to win even though she’s not playing her best.”
Witt is the latest is a seemingly long line of Lorain County girls who have fared well for Magnificat. Madison Hromada (Lorain) and Maddy Lugli (Avon Lake) qualified for districts in the past few seasons during their careers at Magnificat, and senior Sarah Patrick (Avon Lake) is one of the team captains this year, having qualified for districts in doubles last season.
“I think, for a lot of girls from Lorain County, Mags is a great school for both academics and athletics,” Witt said. “That attracts a lot of girls not just from around here, but all over. There are good tennis clubs in Lorain County, and the girls who go to Mags are able to thrive and are able to balance academics and athletics very well.
“It’s one of the best tennis programs in the state traditionally, and to be a part of it is tremendous.”
Johnson is expecting good things from Witt. And not just this season, but next year as well.
“She’s more mature, especially as far as her mental game goes,” he said. “Everything was new to her last year, and I think she’ll take more of a leadership role because of how hard she’s worked and the successes that she’s had.
“I’ll never forget (Westlake’s) Lauren Golick’s first year at state was a little overwhelming, but she came back next year and took third in state. It’s a very unique environment down in Columbus, and it takes a little getting used to from players. I’m sure (Witt’s) learned from it and will use that to motivate her this year.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.