Q&A With Women's Tennis' Susan Johnson
Nov. 8, 2005
Q&A With Susan Johnson
By Dave Quinn
This is your second year at UMass after growing up in Maryland and spending two years in Colorado. How does New England compare to the other places you've lived?
It's a different feel. I think it goes back to the whole East Coast vs West Coast comparison. Boulder is very West Coast as there are a lot of people from California and the West Coast in general that go there.
There's also a similar feel as both Amherst and Boulder have an earthy feel, especially with Boulder being very pro whole foods, organic, and free trade. The school size is very similar. In terms of sports, the focus out there was football, where here it's basketball and hockey. The main difference is the East Coast vs. West Coast feel.
We hear the East Coast vs. West Coast living comparison a lot. What exactly does that mean?
West Coast life is slower and more laid back. I didn't realize how fast life moves out here until I went out to Boulder. Here there is a little more pressure and we do things a little faster. Both are great, I've enjoyed them both.
You spent two years at Colorado before transferring to UMass. When you were looking around at possible schools to transfer to, what was it about UMass that made it stand out?
In terms of size, it was the closest to Colorado, which was what I wanted. I was looking at UNC Charlotte, and that was a little smaller. I also thought I would get better opportunities here from the Isenberg School of Management. The size and the set up was at UMass was what I wanted, along with the big sports program.
In my conversations with Coach Dixon, she spoke very highly of you. I know she was instrumental during your transfer process, and the two of you had a lot of individual work together. She's seemed to take a vested interest in your progression as a person and a player. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Coach Dixon?
With such a small team, everyone is very close knit. Communication between players and coaches is very open. I think that helps everybody. With a big team, it's hard to feel open with the coaches, especially when you're a new player. It's easy to get lost in the shuffle. I think because there are only 12 of us, it helps the coaches have a vested interest in, us not only on the court, but off it.
Seniors are always looked to for leadership and are an intricate part of any collegiate team's success. What do you bring to this year's tennis squad both on and off the court?
I think all the seniors play the same role in that we all know what's going on within athletics, who to talk to, who not to talk to, ect. I think with this team, it's a little different because with such a small team, you don't have a single leader who is "taking care of the troops". Each person brings their own thing to the group, so it's almost like a family. As a leader, you try to enhance what everybody brings to the group so it all works as one. All the seniors work together, so if the young players have questions, they come to us. We tell them about things that have happened in the past, so if its, "Oh you're going to talk to Judy about this, this is how you want to do it" You just try to give them knowledge and guidance.
After the A-10s last year, there was a team meeting in which you and your teammates hashed out the season. In the meeting you said that the season had restored your faith in team tennis once again. What did you mean by that and tell us about what last year's team meant to you after transferring from Colorado?
Colorado wasn't as a harmonious team as I would have liked. There were some personality conflicts there. What was so nice about last year's team was that everyone came together and clicked. We fed off each other's personalities. No one on the team was working to be "the all-star," or being the one phenomenal player. Tennis is hard in that its an individual sport, and you're trying to accomplish things as a team, but a lot of players try to do it all for themselves. I felt last year that we were all knew that our success depended on how we came together as a team. We were so close last year, it wasn't anything I had experienced before. We were all friends, we all got along great together, and we all wanted the same thing, the same goal.
Do you have any pre-match rituals that you go through or specific songs that you listen to get ready for a match?
Not exactly. I did more so in juniors, but now that I'm on the team, we all kind of do the same things. We get out there and warm up together. In that hour and a half that we're all together, we get each other up and ready for the game. Before that, I'm just getting myself focused. As far as rituals or listening to music or anything like that, no.
Off the tennis courts, what are some of the best and worst things about being a college athlete?
The worst thing about being an athlete is that you don't get to be involved with any clubs or other activities, which I would have liked to be involved with to get a more rounded experience. But on the other hand, being an athlete gives you a balanced experience. The team becomes you job. You learn how to multitask. You learn how to communicate with others. Being on such a small team, you learn how to work with other people. You learn tremendous communication skills as you learn how to be open with people and you learn how to talk out issues. I think that's what's great about being a college athlete is that you get all the experiences, but it's much more structured. It fills up your time, and I like that. I like what I've learned. I like that I've learned to be a leader and how to make an impact on the team. I'm a business major. Whenever I go to these interviews, I think about how I've played on a team that operates all year long and the team has been like its own little mini internship. Now I feel so much more prepared going into the real world now than if I hadn't played tennis.
You come from a unique family situation. Can you tell me a little bit about it and what it was like growing up with a dad that worked from home and a mother that went into the office daily?
My dad was a private investor. He worked from home, so I guess I had a reversal of gender roles. My dad took care of my brother and I because he was at the house and my mom was out having the corporate job. It didn't affect my relationship with them because I'm close to both of my parents. If anything, it helped my relationship with my mom because it gave me a sense that I can do it all. She's a great role model. She wakes up at 5:30 in the morning, drives to (Washington) DC, works out, gets to work at 8:00 and then is home at 7:00 at night. When she gets home she takes care of my brother and all of the other stuff. It's given me a perspective on how to do everything. I've never though of my dad being a "house dad." He was working, but he likes being at home and doing yard work and cooking. My dad was a college athlete. He played football at Clemson University. He had a vested interest in my sports, and trying to get me to play college tennis. He had such fond memories of being a college athlete. He enjoyed taking my brother and I to all our practices. It worked out for both of my parents. No one had to sacrifice; now I see you can do it all.
You took the summer off from tennis in order to intern in New York. Tell me a little bit about the internship and what you took away from your experience?
The internship was with Burston- Marstellar, which is a global PR firm. I worked mainly in public affairs. Public affairs do a lot of labor negotiations and corporate consciousness related things. We did work with companies that had government interactions. It was great. It was one of the best experiences of my entire life because I was in a work setting. I felt like I was part of a team. It was like you were an employee because they gave you billable work. Granted, it wasn't life or death work, but it was administrative stuff that needed to be done. It was neat because I was working on Park Avenue with my own cubicle, with my own desk, my own extension and my name on the cubicle. It was such a fantastic experience. Not only did we get to interact with people we were working with and the managerial directors above us, but we also got to speak with our CEO, our founding CEO, our head of the New York office, and head of the HR department. They had such a vested interest in the program and the program was so structured that you learned a tremendous amount. Living in New York was fantastic as well. They paid for our housing, which was great. Living there is an experience itself. It changes you because it makes you feel like you can live in the city and get around without being overwhelmed. It's definitely a confidence booster.
In catching your voicemail, I noticed you had a hint of southern accent with "Hey Ya'll" What was your first impression when arriving on campus with all the students thick Boston/Massachusetts accent?
I'm from Atlanta originally and lived there for 13 years. My whole family is very southern, so when we moved to Maryland some of the kids asked me why I said, "Ya'll" instead of "You guys." Now when I tell people I go to UMass, they all try to do the Boston accent. It's a culture shock at first, but you get used to it. It didn't take me that long to get used to the terminology. I had never heard the term "wicked" used before. It strikes me as funny.
How do you feel about the way that women's tennis is marketed and promoted now? As a management and marketing student, what would you do to improve the popularity of the sport?
I think when you market any type of women's sport there's always going to be that push of make it sexy, make it flashy. You can't compare Sports Illustrated to Tennis Magazine. Tennis Magazine isn't focused on the full-page photo spreads, the hair all down and looking great. I don't feel there is a problem with how the sport is portrayed. When you watch women's tennis you see that they're hitting the ball really hard and they're real athletes. I haven't seen a huge difference between men and women's tennis, but maybe I haven't watched it that carefully. I don't have a problem with how it's portrayed. I realize now that more people that I thought actually watch tennis, even on campus.
If I were a tennis recruit, how would you sell them on UMass as an overall package?
I think I would stress how our team gets along. I think it's a unique type of thing. We have such a strong team bond and atmosphere. I've never known 12 girls to get along without some sort of drama or whatever developing. There is nothing like that on our team. There are no cliques. We don't break off. The coaches really have an interest in seeing this team grown and develop. Some coaches get complacent to finish 5th or 6th in A-10 where our goal is to win A-10s and get to the NCAA Tournament. Each year the team improves. Last year we came in second, this year we're looking to win A-10s. I'd sell them on that.
Finally, what can we expect from both Susan Johnson and the UMass Women's Tennis team this year?
I think we have a really good shot of doing as well if not better than last year. We have essentially the same team coming back from last year's squad. We have a bunch of new freshmen that are coming in that have a lot of potential to really help out this year. We have a really good outlook of where we want to go. We had a great season last year and we want to improve on it. I can't say we're going to do this or do that, because that's focusing on the outcome. I like to focus on the process and enjoy the outcome when we get to it. We're going to work hard, were going to put in the hours of conditioning and practice. This team has so much potential that I don't see us not doing as well as we did last year. I think we'll do better than we did last year.
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