April 19, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- It was late January 2016, and as Winter Storm Jonas hammered Central Virginia, Mark Guilbeau's concerns grew.
Guilbeau is head coach of the University of Virginia women's tennis team, and one of his prime recruiting targets, Rosie Johanson, was coming in on a visit that, to his dismay, coincided with the massive snowstorm.
"I thought, `Man, we're going to lose this kid before we ever get her on campus,' " Guilbeau recalled.
He need not have worried. Johanson made it to Charlottesville, liked what she saw and decided to become a Cavalier, choosing Virginia over Arizona State, Baylor and Miami (Fla.). And now, as the end of her first year at UVA nears, she ranks among the ACC's top freshmen.
In a program whose recent stars have included two-time NCAA singles champion Danielle Collins and Julia Elbaba, the next elite player figures to be Johanson, who grew up in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
"She's showing that, for sure," Guilbeau said.
Virginia (9-11 overall, 6-6 ACC), which reached the NCAA quarterfinals last year, has no seniors in its lineup this season. Injuries and illness have stymied the Wahoos, but Johanson's play has been a positive. Her overall singles record is 25-9, and she's 13-5 in dual matches: 6-3 at No. 1 and 7-2 at No. 2.
"We didn't know for sure that Rosie was going to be able to win as much as she has," Guilbeau said, "but she's done great."
The ACC tournament is next week in Berry, Georgia. Before heading south, the Cavaliers will play three more dual matches, all at the Snyder Tennis Center, weather permitting.
The first two are against ACC foes. No. 43 Virginia hosts No. 42 Florida State (14-9, 6-6) at 3:30 p.m. Friday and No. 39 Miami (8-10, 6-6) at 11 a.m. Sunday. UVA closes the regular season against Towson (13-10) at 4 p.m. Sunday.
The `Hoos need a strong finish to bolster their case for a ninth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. Nine players make up the roster. Rarely have all nine been available for practices or matches this year, but the Cavaliers have produced some highlights nonetheless.
On March 5, UVA edged Virginia Tech 4-3 at the Boar's Head Sports Club to secure a valuable point in the closely contested Commonwealth Clash competition.
"This year they were honestly probably favored over us, so that was one of our better days," said Guilbeau, who has never lost to the Hokies in his 12 years at Virginia.
Overall, though, this has a trying season for the `Hoos, "especially for [the veterans], because last year they did so well," said Johanson, one of four freshmen on the team, along with Hunter Bleser, Camille Favero and Chloe Gullickson.
"But they haven't really been showing that they're disappointed. They've been really encouraging, and the second-years like Meghan [Kelley] and Erica [Susi] kind of know what we're going through, coming into this program, so they've been really supportive and helpful to us."
Johanson, 18, took a winding route to Charlottesville. Her father, a funeral director, is from Ontario, Canada, and her mother, a nurse, is English.
Her parents met when they were working in Bermuda, Johanson said, but she was born in England. She lived there until she was 8, when her parents decided to move to Abbotsford, a city of about 140,000 residents that's near Vancouver, British Columbia.
"I just think they fancied a change," Johanson said, "and B.C. has better weather than Ontario."
In most of her conversations, Johanson's English roots are not readily apparent. But that can change.
"It's funny, because when I talk to my parents, I have a British accent," Johanson said, laughing. "When we go back [to England], I have a British accent."
Her father played hockey growing up, and one of his uncles played in the NHL. Another one of Johanson's male relatives was an Olympic pole-vaulter, so it was no surprise that she displayed athletic prowess at an early age.
Johanson swam, ran track and played soccer before deciding to focus on tennis, and she later spent two years at the national training center for tennis in Montreal. The sport's popularity in Canada, she said, is rising.
"It's usually just hockey," said Johanson, who rooms with Sydney Dusel, a freshman on UVA's diving team, "but now we've had Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, and there's a lot of really good younger players my age coming up."
At 5-4, Johanson is not tall, but she's "a very good athlete, and it's kind of understated," Guilbeau said. "She jumps well, she moves well, she moves low, she's smart. Good hands and good feet, that's hard to beat, and then there's a lot of power in there. That's probably the biggest separator."
Like Collins, Johanson is "able to hit the ball with pace and have miles per hour on the ball," Guilbeau said. "You want a well-rounded game and you need to have your specific skill set, but there's no substitute for power."
Junior Cassie Mercer played No. 1 for the Cavaliers in singles early in the season, and that gave Johanson time to adjust to the dual-match format.
"She had some tough matches, but she did well, and then she was ready to kind of go up," Guilbeau said.
In doubles, Johanson has been paired most often with sophomore Meghan Kelley, whom she knew from the International Tennis Federation junior circuit. They have a 14-11 record as partners.
In singles and doubles, Guilbeau said, he expects Johanson to lead the way for Virginia in the coming years.
"She's a great player, and she's really continuing to impress," he said. "In some ways she makes it look easy, but she's added some power, and her serve has improved. It was always good, but it's stronger now."
Johanson, who hopes to major in kinesiology, had never really been part of a tennis team before enrolling at UVA.
"It's been really cool, actually," she said. "In juniors, you're always playing with just yourself. Most of the times it's just you, with maybe your parents watching. Now we have a full fan base, and you're playing for all seven or eight of your teammates."
Her goals for the rest of her first college season?
"I'd love to make the NCAA tournament and see how far I can go with that and just keep improving," Johanson said, "because I think this year's been more of a learning curve than anything. To be able to do well this year and then see how far I can take it for the next three years would be great."
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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