Coach's Corner with Jessica Johnson
Issue   |   Wed, 05/06/2015 - 00:47
Kurt Ayers
Coach Johnson wraps up her first season with a 16-12 overall record.

Q: Tell us a little bit about how you got into softball as a youth and its role in your early life.
A: Back in the horse and buggy days ... I actually did not play much softball until I got into high school, as there was no youth softball in my small hometown in the Berkshires. Then in high school I played soccer, basketball and softball and really liked being involved with sports in general. Ironically, soccer was my true love at the time, and I ended up being recruited to Wheaton College to play soccer. However, I ended up really disliking the soccer coach there, so I quit and decided to walk on to the softball team where I had a really strong career. I honestly attribute some of my success in college softball, compared to that of my high school career, to the longer distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. The extra 3 feet, for whatever reason, really helped me.

Q: This is your first season as head coach here. What drew you here to Amherst?
A: Oh, what didn’t? Being from western Massachusetts and growing up three miles away from Williams College, I have been familiar with the NESCAC and specifically the Amherst-Williams rivalry for quite some time. Professionally, I honestly do not know if there is a better spot in the country to be as a Division III coach than here at Amherst. From a personal standpoint, having been in an urban setting at Brandeis before this, the rural setting of Amherst was something my family and I were looking for. All in all, it was a perfect fit for us.

Q: Where and how did your coaching career begin?
A: I began at Framingham State, where I was an assistant for one year before I switched over to Mount Ida College in Newtown, Massachusetts for a couple of years, where I was also an assistant. After the head coach at Mount Ida moved on to a different school, they hired me in as the new head coach and I stayed there for two years. Then I landed the head coaching job at Brandeis, a phenomenal place for sure, but wanted to get back to my roots and work at a smaller school, and Amherst provided me that opportunity. I eventually spent eight great years at Brandeis before accepting the job here last summer.

Q: What is your favorite softball memory as a player? As a coach?
A: As a player it would have to be our College World Series experience at Wheaton my junior season where we ended up finishing third in the country. I am not sure there was one defining moment but the whole experience was definitely unforgettable. It seems every month or so one of my teammates will post a picture of that team on Facebook and we will have some good laughs and sort of relive some of those moments. In terms of coaching, there have been many memorable moments over the years but I would have to say, again, our NCAA tournament appearance at Brandeis a few years ago would take the cake. Just being able to step back and realize how everything came together to get to that point was a pretty special experience for me.

Q: In your opinion what is the most rewarding part of coaching? The toughest?
A: For me the most rewarding part of coaching is the stuff that happens afterwards with these women. I have these former players who, at one point, felt like my kids, and they are now having children of their own and making a name for themselves professionally. The big picture aspect is a never-ending cycle as a coach, and it is pretty remarkable to be a part of that. As for the most challenging, it would have to be doing it all ,and doing it all well, for that matter. Being a mother and a family member, being a coach, getting all of the recruiting done, keeping tabs on former players — it is a lot to do it all, and holding myself to that standard of doing it all very well can be difficult at times, but we are managing.

Q: Your first season here just came to an end. What are your thoughts on the year? On NESCAC softball?
A: It’s honestly different being in the conference than I had imagined, and I feel I have a pretty good grasp on college softball in the Northeast. The two conferences I have now worked in, the UAA and the NESCAC, are consistently two of the best leagues in the country every year, and even more than I had assumed the NESCAC is certainly a juggernaut at the end of every year. Having the triple-header series format was new for me and certainly will help having that under the belt moving forward. It was not the end result we were looking for this year — for me it is the expectation of holding up the trophy at the very end, and anything else is a disappointment. I felt we, as a staff, got to know our seniors pretty well in a short period of time and also put a foundation down for future success with the core of student-athletes we have returning. Now it is up to us to put things into place this summer in terms of best utilizing the NESCAC rules and really trying to map it all out for next season.