Tennis alum Hailey Johnson (‘16) finds community in sport

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Tennis alum Hailey Johnson (‘16) finds community in sport

Hailey Johnson (‘16) enjoys playing tennis with her father, Craig Johnson, and two older brothers, Erik and Dan Johnson.

Hailey Johnson (‘16) enjoys playing tennis with her father, Craig Johnson, and two older brothers, Erik and Dan Johnson.

Photo courtesy of Hailey Johnson

Hailey Johnson (‘16) enjoys playing tennis with her father, Craig Johnson, and two older brothers, Erik and Dan Johnson.

Photo courtesy of Hailey Johnson

Photo courtesy of Hailey Johnson

Hailey Johnson (‘16) enjoys playing tennis with her father, Craig Johnson, and two older brothers, Erik and Dan Johnson.

Sophie Nall, Staff Writer

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Hailey Johnson (‘16) grew up playing tennis with her father and brothers, but she did not know that her love for the sport would allow her to reach a collegiate athletic level. Involvement with tennis has allowed Johnson to cultivate a hard-working athletic community both at Luther and beyond.

“I would watch my brothers [play tennis, and see] how well they were playing,” Johnson said. “That really pushed me to want to play [in college].”

One of Johnson’s older brothers played tennis at Augustana College. His tennis coach, Adam Strand (‘04), began as Head Men’s and Women’s Tennis Coach at Luther in 2011. As a result, she knew she had to see Luther’s program. During Johnson’s visit, she played with the Women’s Team and determined that Luther was a place that would challenge her as a player.

Johnson studied history and secondary education, sang in choir, and played tennis all four years at Luther. Strand coached Johnson and came to know her and her family well. Johnson mostly played doubles, finishing her Luther career as an all-conference doubles performer in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in the fall of 2015.

According to Strand, she was a versatile player and was driven to excel on the court.

“As coaches, we’re big on internal motivation,” Strand said. “If you’ve got to go out every day and motivate your [athletes], it’s not going to work. They [have to] have that internal motivation and Hailey always had that.”

Johnson fondly remembers her time on the Women’s Tennis Team, especially traveling to Florida with the team for spring break. One year, her family came to watch her play during a Florida tournament.

“We pulled up, and out of the men’s bathroom walked my two older brothers,” Johnson said. “It was a big surprise. They had never seen me play collegiately, or hardly ever in high school, because they had been in college.”

Though her family members rarely got to watch her play, Johnson was still a positive presence on the team, according to former teammate, Annika Peterson (‘19).

“Hailey was a huge [source of positivity], always motivating [her teammates],” Peterson said. “She made the team a lot more cohesive, and made it fun for everyone.”

While Johnson had many positive experiences playing tennis, the summer before her senior year she suffered a painful back injury due to strain and overuse that kept her off the court and in physical therapy for the months before the season started.

“It was to the point where I could not move on my own,” Johnson said. “My dad had to support my back and walk me up the stairs and lay me down in my bed. Eventually I was on [painkillers, which was strange because] I knew my body was hurting, [but] I just couldn’t feel it.”

Johnson was later diagnosed with a herniated disc and two bulging discs in her back. Before this, she had only suffered minor injuries, so the recovery process was new to her.

Clinical Education Coordinator and Assistant Athletic Trainer Kris Agena helped Johnson through it.

“There was no guarantee that I’d be playing tennis in the fall,” Johnson said. “[When I returned to campus], Agena did some tests on me and said, ‘Hailey, you’re not where you need to be, I don’t know if you’ll be playing this year.’ I burst into tears because I had worked my tail off the past few years, and all I wanted to do was be a senior, to play, and be a leader. I had a choice to say ‘I can’t do this’ or [to persevere].”

Her strength through the process of healing was inspired by a few of her personal role models: her mother, Wendy, her father, Craig, and Assistant Professor of Music, Jennaya Robison (‘96), who mentored Johnson during her four years of choir.

“[I look up to Robison’s] confidence and the way that she commands herself, especially when [Robison] first [came to Luther] in a department of [all] men,” Johnson said. “I have the highest respect for those other conductors, but [Robison] came in and changed the game. She demands excellence, but she’s also very approachable; I never felt intimidated by her.”

Ashley Veeser (‘18) | Photo Bureau
Hailey Johnson plays against the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Sept. 12, 2015.

Johnson eventually returned to play doubles with her partner, Maggie Knutson (‘16) her senior year. The pair found success during a fall match against a doubles team from Coe College that Johnson had not beaten during her time at Luther.

“Being able to play with [Knutson] was a great accomplishment for me,” Johnson said. “We beat Coe’s number one doubles team, [which were] our big rivals. To beat a team that was so steady was a really massive accomplishment.”

Johnson is currently in her second year of teaching social studies at Regis Jesuit High School in her home state of Colorado. She enjoys the proximity to her family, and the comfort of the place she grew up. She is also the head coach of the girl’s tennis team at Regis Jesuit, enabling her to continue to be engaged in the sport that she loves.

“I tell my players, ‘you’re not just playing for yourself, [and] you shouldn’t just be playing for me,’” Johnson said. “If you’re on a team, you’re playing for the girl that is sitting to the right of you and sitting to the left of you.”

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