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Daily Journal
     August 11, 2021      #71-223 KDJ

Coal City's Johnson reflects on tennis

By Cody Smith

Some local student-athletes are able to continue to pursue their athletic dreams of playing college sports; others such as Coal City tennis player Tyler Johnson are not.

After qualifying for the IHSA Class 1A State Finals in May, the recent Coaler graduate made the decision to enroll in Joliet Junior College’s prestigious Operator Engineering Tech program and forgo his dream of playing on a college campus.

“I’m kind of sad that my tennis career is over,” Johnson said. “I would really like to go play tennis somewhere, and so I’m looking into playing for a club in Naperville. I wish I could have gone to a college that has tennis, but the educational opportunity was too good to pass up at JJC.”

Although Johnson’s time on the varsity squad was short because he missed out on his entire junior season because of COVID-19, the Coalers’ No. 1 singles player went on to make the most of his senior season by compiling a 10-2 overall record in the regular season. He went 2-2 in sectional play before eventually falling 7-6, 6-1 to Rochester’s Paxton Garland-Sutter in the opening round of the 2021 IHSA Class 1A Boys Tennis State Finals in Vernon Hills.

“I thought going down to state was a great experience,” Johnson said. “I just thought it was crazy that I even got a chance to play this year with COVID-19 and everything like that. It was my first time qualifying for state since my junior year got canceled.”

Out of all the fond memories Johnson has made during his time on the Coal City tennis squad, none was more notable than his victory at sectionals. Johnson toppled Justin Metesh, of Morris, in a third-set tiebreaker, winning 7-5, 1-6, 6-1 in the IHSA Class 1A Sectional Semifinals. That win alone ultimately helped Johnson secure his first-ever bid to state.

“That was something that was so cool for him because I know, out of all the players, he was the hardest working, and so he deserved it,” Coal City tennis coach Jeremy Unger said. “I’m very proud of him for qualifying for state.”

Coach Unger has led many talented tennis players during his six-year run at Coal City, with the past four years as the varsity head coach, yet no player has stuck out the way Johnson did during his short time on varsity.

“Johnson’s biggest thing is his motivation and desire to get better,” Unger said. “That was definitely something that separated him from the guys [who] I’ve coached in the past.”

With Johnson playing in the No. 1 singles spot since he joined the varsity squad two seasons ago, he has learned how to help his fellow teammates along the way, which is something he will cherish in the years to come.

“It was cool for people to look up to me, and so that was probably my favorite part playing tennis at Coal City,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed winning, but I enjoyed helping my teammates even more, and so I think that was my favorite part.”

Now that Johnson’s Coaler career is over, Unger hopes to see if Johnson’s work ethic and mentality will rub off on returning players who are set to compete again this spring season.

“The biggest thing that I’m going to miss about Johnson is that he didn’t argue or complain, and just went out and did his job,” Unger said. “He listens and works hard, which is hard to find. ... He’s a team player, and I hope that’s something that has rubbed off onto the returning players this upcoming season.”

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