First year tennis head coach Jonathan Wolff looks to lead repeat as Sun Belt champions

The new head coach for the men’s tennis team Jonathan Wolff coaches on Tuesday Feb. 20. Photo by Jordan Brace | The Signal

The defending Sun Belt men’s tennis conference champions are under new leadership this season. Well, sort of. Jonathan Wolff, a Florida native, is leading the team this year as the official head coach after spending three months last year as the interim head coach following Brett Ross’s departure.

Wolff has always had an affinity for tennis. With an older brother who played the sport and parents who were a driving force, the game seems like a natural fit for him. While he was around the sport for most of his young life, Wolff describes himself as a late bloomer, saying he didn’t really get serious about tennis until he was around 13 years old. However, Wolff says the late bloom was a blessing in disguise because it prevented him from getting burned out from the sport, keeping his passion fresh heading into college.

The young athlete would go on to attend Wake Forest, where he would not only excel on the court, but academically as well. He was even named a team captain in his final two seasons with the Demon Deacons, proving his leadership skills well before he would be named Georgia State head coach. After his playing career at Wake Forest ended, Wolff went on to hold various jobs while obtaining his masters degree, but all roads seemed to lead back to tennis. He would later return to Wake Forest where he worked as an assistant coach for a number of years.  

This position as an assistant is where Wolff would meet friend and mentor Brett Ross. Ross later became the head coach at Georgia State and provided Wolff the opportunity as an assistant coach, an opportunity Wolff would make the most out of and later turn into a head coaching position.

Senior standout and team captain Sebastian Acuna from Miami Beach, FL. describes Wolff as a head coach who is very caring towards his players and is someone always willing to listen. Acuna also admitted that Wolff “knows when to put his foot down when he needs to”.

Wolff is very aware of this and described it as one of the biggest transitions he had to make from assistant coach to becoming the head coach of the team.

Wolff said he has to “run a tighter ship” as the head coach but also understands the the biggest key is “trust in the leadership because at the end of the day everyone wants the same thing– to win.”

Freshman, Kevin Huynh echoed Acuna’s statements saying Wolff is “very strict when it comes down to things like practice and matches, but all around he’s a really great guy.”+

Wolff brings the best of both worlds to his players– harshness on the court and friendliness off it, something players like Huynh have come to appreciate. Wolff needs all of his players to be bought in if they hope to defend their Sun Belt Conference title this season.

The men’s tennis team opened the 2018 season with a tough stretch of games, something Wolff scheduled intentionally. In the early portion of this season the team has faced off against some high profile schools such as Cal Poly, LSU, Auburn, Clemson and Louisville. While these big school names may seem daunting, Wolff never felt that his team was out of a match or at a disadvantage.

The team picked up a big win over LSU but dropped matches to Cal Poly, Auburn, Clemson and Louisville, but used them as learning experiences and tools to improve according to Wolff.

“We want to be in top shape come conference time,” Wolff said.

Matches against tough opponents like those are sure to help. After a rough start to the season, the team flipped the momentum in their favor two weekends ago with some huge victories in Jacksonville, Florida. They went a perfect 2-0 two weekends ago defeating North Florida and Charlotte 4-3 and 5-2 respectively.

While the team played good as a whole, Coach Wolff pointed out one player in particular who stood out– Huynh, who brought the much needed clutch factor. Huynh had two clinches on the weekend which Wolff described as “really big for a freshman”, but Huynh didn’t take all the credit. Instead, he deflected it on his teammates and coaches who he said kept him calm under pressure.

The team continued to build on this recent monteum shift with a convincing 4-1 victory over South Alabama on Feb. 25 to open conference play. This victory plays perfectly into the plan Wolff formulated before the season– play the best opponents early to be ready for conference matches.

With the toughest portion of the schedule behind them the team is in a good spot heading into more conference games in the next phase of the seasons. This is in large part due to Wolff’s leadership.

The Panthers play their next three games in Atlanta, featuring two home matches versus USC Upstate and ETSU, as well as a matchup against Georgia Tech which Wolff described as a tricky one. With Georgia State being a mid-major, these home matches are something Wolff and the players have come to cherish.

“It’s great to have that crowd out there supporting our guys,” Wolff said about the home crowd.

Combining Wolff’s leadership with a nice home stretch and team confidence being at its highest point yet, the Panthers have positioned themselves to be a force to be reckoned with not only in the Sun Belt, but the NCAA as a whole for the remainder of this season.