Johnson grows up fast

The women’s volleyball team is picking up right where they left off last year. In only their third season, the Hurricanes have established themselves as a strong contender in the Big East.

One reason for their success over the past two seasons is sophomore middle blocker Karla Johnson. Johnson played a major role in the ‘Canes qualifying for the NCAA tournament last year, as she was named Big East Co-Rookie of the Week on two different occasions.

“She’s just so strong offensively,” freshman middle blocker Ciara Michel said. “She is also very consistent.”

The Hurricanes had won eight consecutive matches up until their loss to Florida A&M last Tuesday and were undefeated in the Big East until their loss to Connecticut on Saturday. Johnson said that there is a reason for the great play.

“I think one of the keys to our success so far is that we all get along really well,” she said. “Even off the court we all hang out and act real goofy.”

Another reason that could be attributed to the great start is that Johnson feels that when the team is having fun and playing their best, winning seems to come easy.

Johnson is used to winning. Hailing from Houston, Texas, she started playing volleyball in the eighth grade. She led her team to a 26-7 record in her senior year while also excelling in track and field at Aldine Westfield High.

“There’s a difference between high school and college volleyball,” Johnson said. “It’s a faster pace and everyone’s stronger in college.”

Off the court, Johnson is studying bio-medical engineering, which helped her choose UM, being one of the only schools to offer the program to undergraduates.

There aren’t too many differences between last year’s squad and this year’s.

“I would say one of the only differences is that we’re even closer this year than last,” Johnson said. “But we’re basically the same team from last year.”

Volleyball is a grueling sport that forces players to constantly be diving and jumping all over the court. Head Coach Nicole Lantagne Welch makes sure the girls stay in shape with constant workouts and practices.

Last year, Johnson came in as a freshman and had a great first half of 2002, showing the enormous potential she has in this level.

“We didn’t have any expectations last year,” Johnson said. “It was nice to come in and have a relaxed atmosphere. It was also a nice feeling to come in and contribute as a freshman.”

This year, the ‘Canes still have road matches against Big East foes such as Syracuse and Notre Dame. The road back to the NCAA tournament won’t be easy, but Johnson is confident the team can advance further than last year’s second round loss to Nebraska.

“We’re definitely just as good as last year,” Johnson said. “Or even better due to the chemistry we have.”

Miami continues play on October 29 in Boca Raton against non-conference opponent Florida Atlantic.