Johnston hopes to lift Middlebury
Jenny Johnston is a coach's dream.
A captain for Staples softball and volleyball before graduating in June, she was the Block S Coach's award recipient in both sports. In addition, she was the Block S Team MVP in softball her junior year.
"I honestly don't know if I deserved all of it," she modestly said. "It as nice to get this recognition and it was a huge honor. I didn't expect any of them."
The Block S weren't the only awards she received. Johnston was All-FCIAC Honorable Mention in both sports her senior year and was Second Team All-FCIAC in softball her junior year.
"Getting honored at all is very nice and it's a nice accomplishment, especially with the caliber of players there is in the FCIAC," Johnston said.
She had a 2.33 ERA with 37 walks and 92 strikeouts. Despite pitching well, the Lady Wreckers didn't support her at the plate, thus she compiled a 4-10 record.
"Jenny's a fierce competitor and does not give up no matter what the situation is," Staples Coach Mark Giordano said. "She keeps competing even with no lead or when the team is behind, which isn't easy."
Before the season started, she injured her glutei muscle, which affected her performance. The cold weather played a role in this fluke injury.
"It's frustrating not to get off to a good start," Johnston said. "You bounce back as best as you can. No athlete likes being injured and it's a matter of working through it and being smart about it. I got frustrated when I wasn't pitching well and that injury is really hard to deal with."
Some thought the injury would sideline her but she was determined to hang tough. When the injury didn't affect her, Johnston was on. For example, she blanked Trumbull 2-0 on April 21, knocking it from the unbeaten ranks.
"She came back from a difficult injury and I give her all the credit for it," Giordano said.
Junior year, Johnston was 11-8 with a 1.53 ERA in her first year as a varsity starter.
"I knew I had to step it up at the varsity level and I didn't think about pitching every inning of every game," she said. "Things just clicked for me last year. It's frustrating I didn't do as well this year as I did last year."
Johnston's repertoire of pitches, include the fastball, screwball, dropball and changeup. She throws two different changeups, a normal one which has a little spin to it and a knuckleball changeup. Her ability to mix up her pitches contributed to her success.
"My father says there are throwers and there are pitchers," Johnston said. "Throwers throw as hard as they can but pitchers have to be crafty, which makes it an artform and it's why I like to pitch."
Although she continuously worked on the knuckleball changeup over the winter, she only threw it twice during the season. Nevertheless, she's enthralled with this pitch.
"When it works, it works beautifully," Johnston says. "Batters don't have any idea when it comes, umpires don't have any idea when it comes, catchers don't have any idea when it comes even though they call the pitch because when it works, everyone is in awe with it."
The regular changeup is a pitch she relies upon because it has fooled many batters.
"When a batter expects a fastball but gets a changeup, they swing before it crosses the plate," Johnston says. "Pitching is about keeping batters off-balance and nothing does it better than a changeup."
Her most frequent pitch is the screwball. It cuts in the batter very well, which makes it difficult to hit and it possesses more speed and spin than a changeup. The fastball comes down to Johnston hitting her spots.
"As a junior, I hit my spots very well," she said. "Senior year, because of my injury, I relied more on placing the ball."
Possessing a drive to succeed contributed to her success on the hill. It takes a lot to prod Johnston to quit practicing because she's a perfectionist when it comes to pitching.
"I'm the type of person who won't stop pitching until I'd get it right," she says. "I'm stubborn and I keep on trying to perfect it to the point of being my own worst enemy. Even if my coach said enough and I need to stop, I'd still keep going if I find a fault with my pitch."
At the plate, she was the Lady Wreckers' third best hitter with a .351 average and opponents feared her at the plate as well.
"Hitting is really fun, you face a big ball with a big bat and you try to hit it," Johnston says. "Hitting is very mental, if you believe you can hit it, you can and if you believe you can't, you can't. I go up there and try not to hit a home run, I go up there to make contact with the big yellow ball."
Life on the softball field began for her at age 3 under the tutelage of her father.
"My dad started my sister and I and I threw balls around with them when I was younger," Johnston said.
Growing up, she briefly played soccer and did ballet for 12 years at the Royal Academy, which she stopped in eighth grade.
In seventh grade, Johnston began to play volleyball and got into this sport.
"My family played it on the beach each summer and it seemed like fun," she recalled. "Being tall and thin, everyone said I should try volleyball and I started to go to camps as a freshman."
Depending on the needs of Staples or her Connecticut Juniors club program, the 5-11 Johnston played at middle hitter and right side hitter. Yale University Assistant Coach Jim Vorbais coached her at Connecticut Juniors, which made it to Nationals during her sophomore year. Under his tutelage, she improved her game immensely.
Whether she played in the middle or on the right side, opponents had trouble defending against her hits.
"Hitting is all about timing," Johnston says. "If you have good muscles and can jump, it's a matter of having good chemistry with the setter. From there, it comes down to technique and timing."
Although she was Honorable Mention in volleyball, she wasn't satisfied with herself.
"It felt very good being honored but I was upset with myself because I didn't do as well as I wanted to," Johnston admitted. "I did better in the past."
Leadership is another strength of hers as she served both teams as captain.
"It felt nice to lead in both sports," Johnston said. "You want to help your team in any way, shape or form. It's nice to be the communicator between the other players and coaches and it's nice to solve all the little things."
As captain, Johnston led by example through her work ethic and verbally by encouraging her teammates.
"All captains have to lead by example or else you're a hypocrite," she says. "When something needs to be said, you can't be afraid to jump in and say anything."
Academically, she took many AP courses and was in the top 10 percent of her class. Math is her favorite subject.
Junior year third semester is usually the toughest academic period for a student-athlete. In addition to playing softball and travel volleyball, Johnston helped with Staples Players and was in the midst of the college applications process. In the end, she had her best grades ever.
"I work well under pressure," she says. "You don't have too much time to get your work done, so you do it diligently and efficiently."
At the end of August, she will head to Middlebury College and major in economics. She's interested in a career in international business.
Johnston is definitely trying out for the volleyball and softball teams and is almost certain of making the latter. If she's cut from either team, she plans on playing ultimate Frisbee.
In order to make the Lady Panthers, she has to raise her game to the next level.
"I have to get as fast and strong, if not faster or stronger than the people I'll go up against," Johnston said.
Giordano said, "Jenny will continue to work on her skills. If she gets a chance and continues to work hard, she'll do well."