Junior Karla Johnson and red-shirt freshman Ciara Michel are two different volleyball players from two different states.
Johnson, a seasoned veteran who just moved to outside hitter, and Michel, a middle blocking phenom, both by some “coincidental accident” ended up in the same sport. Now both are stars for the University of Miami.
Johnson started playing back in her hometown of Houston, Texas, where she played for the Houston Juniors club team, which placed second in the Tampa Qualifier for nationals and first in the Tour of Texas. As a student at Aldine Westfield High School, Johnson was a three-year letter winner in track and field and volleyball. In both her junior and senior years, Johnson started as middle blocker and garnered first-team All-District honors for her efforts. Johnson was also voted District MVP in her senior year.
Michel, on the other hand, got her start in volleyball in the Miami scene, playing for Palmer Trinity School in the seventh grade. In high school she was voted team MVP in 2001 and was named to the SFISAA All-Conference team in 2001-2002.
In addition to high school play, Michel was a member of three club teams. With the South Florida Volleyball Club, Michel played in the16-year-old division when she was only 14 and the 17-year-old team when she was 15, resulting in an AAU championship in 2000. Her second club team, Boomers Volleyball Club, was the OVA Invitational Champions, Florida Regional Runners-Up, Power League Champions and the Florida Fest Champions.
But who knows if all of these awards and titles would have happened if both Johnson and Michel had made their respective cheerleading squads in middle school?
“I was a cheerleader back in seventh grade and when I tried out again in eighth grade I didn’t make it so I picked up a volleyball and started playing,” Johnson said. “My coach told my parents I should join a club team.”
Michel didn’t make her squad in the seventh grade either. Neither knew about their cheerleading experiences until recently.
“They told me I was too tall or something. Since I was staying after school anyways, volleyball was practicing at the same time as cheerleading, so I joined that,” Michel said. Johnson may not be one of the flashiest players on the roster, but she has been known to come up big in pivotal matches. In her freshman season, Johnson posted a career-high seven blocks to help the Hurricanes upset Wisconsin and advance to the Sweet 16. At the end of the 2003 season, she won the Unsung Hero award from the team voted on by both the coaches and the players for her hard work ethic.
Michel, in her first season of play for the Hurricanes, has been contributing since she first stepped out on the court. Her greatest achievement so far on the court has been her growing confidence. As a personal goal, Michel is working toward improving her net play.
“I would like to be a stronger force at the net,” she said.
As for a career after college, making a run at the AVP Nissan Series, the professional beach volleyball circuit, might be in the cards for these two ‘Canes.
“It’s always a possibility,” Michel said.
For now, you can be the cheerleader as Miami takes on Florida Atlantic tonight at 7 p.m. at the Knight Sports Complex.
Rodolfo Tomarchio can be contacted at