Volleyball Spotlight- Maggie Johnson
Each One Teach One
"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."
-Johann von Goethe, German author
By the time her career at Belmont is finished, there is a very good chance that Maggie Johnson's name will be written all over the school record books. With over 1,000 career kills already, the junior from Naperville, Ill., will likely move into the top five in school history for kills during this week's Atlantic Sun Tournament. After finishing with the third highest number of attacks for a season last year and leading the Bruins in kills, Johnson was named the All-Conference First Team in 2009 as a sophomore. The accolades continued into the 2010 season, when Johnson was named a Preseason All-Conference pick. While volleyball has been an important part of Johnson's career at Belmont, it is only a part of who she is and not her entire existence. Johnson, an exercise science major with an education minor, hopes to become a teacher one day and work in an inner-city elementary school. Finding a way to that dream while balancing school and volleyball has been and will likely continue to be, challenging. Johnson, however, embraces the challenge and uses the traits that make her a great volleyball player to help her achieve her post-graduate goals.
"I'm an exercise science major and an education minor," she said. "With my education minor, there's not a lot of in class work. With every class there's a practicum where you go to a school and teach a little lesson that they have planned for you. I think I get that from my little brother, wanting to work with young kids. I think working with kids kindergarten through third grade is the best age to work with. They are still very eager to please you, so they do things that you tell them to do. I'm defined by reaching my goals. I really, really want to be a teacher. I didn't decide that until later in college, but I have found a way to figure out how to do it, how to get my teaching certificate so that I can teach in a few years. I want to teach elementary school in an inner city. That's where I really want to go."
Like many of her teammates, Johnson fell in love with Belmont the moment she stepped on campus. Coming from a small high school, the smaller class sizes at Belmont seemed like a perfect fit. Johnson found at Belmont all of the things she loved about the game of volleyball.
"As I kid I played everything. I was a figure skater, I think there was some gymnastics, I played basketball, soccer, softball…and then, my freshman year of high school, I got really serious about club volleyball, so then it just became volleyball from then on. I love team sports, so it would have been harder for me to pick an individual sport like track or something like that, but there is just a different energy in volleyball than there is in other team sports like basketball or softball. It's a smaller team and you get to know everybody really well, even in club where it's not the same people every year, you develop a bond that I didn't see in other sports."
Johnson had an immediate impact as a freshman, playing in 33 matches and earning a spot on the All-Freshman team while helping the Bruins to their second Atlantic Sun Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
"We won conference my freshman year, and I think it was extra special because it was my freshman year and I got to start, so it was a big deal," Johnson said. "Then we beat Lipscomb, which made it so much better. Early in the season we went there and lost in three miserably. Later in the season they came here (to Belmont) and we won in five and then a few weeks later we went to the tournament and beat them in three, so it was like a progression of how much better we had gotten. It was culmination of a great season. Then we got to go to the NCAA Tournament and play at USC, so I think that's probably been my best moment, so far."
During her sophomore season, Johnson built on her prior success, while also figuring out how to balance academics and athletics, a feat which can still be challenging at times.
"Sometimes it is still a struggle to balance school and sports. You get used to it as you get older. It's always a little stressful, but comparing this year to freshman year, it's totally different. You learn to do little things like talking to your teacher or doing things before you go on trips. The first month is always crazy because we're at a tournament every weekend. This year we missed like three weekends in a row, which means you don't go to Thursday and Friday classes, so you're only going to class at certain times, and it does get hectic. You just get better and better at it."
Prior to the start of 2010, Johnson was elected as a Team Captain, the only non-senior selected. Embracing this new role, Johnson has attacked the 2010 campaign with her trademark energy and enthusiasm while also learning a new role on the floor and continuing to grow as a player and person.
"This year it changed a little bit. I'm a captain this year, so it's different than it was before. I know for sure part of my job is to bring a lot of energy to the court. That's always been my job, that's always been my thing, to be the loud, yelling, crazy person, because that's me. The other job---people who know volleyball know that as an O2, it's about ball control and passing and defense. Obviously, I get kills because I play the front row, but it's not just about pounding balls, you have to do all the little things great and then hit well."
Johnson has adjusted to the new role throughout the off-season and into regular season play and has made progress in many, sometimes unexpected, areas.
"I think more for me, it was more of mental progression than a physical progression," she said. "I've been playing for so long, but I've learned a lot of new things to help me be mentally strong or mentally focused or to overcome struggles outside of volleyball and to leave them outside of volleyball more than I've had any big physical improvements. One big physical improvement I made this year was, over the summer my goal was to jump 10 feet as my vertical jump coming in and I made it. It was a big improvement because I came in jumping 9-8, so to add four inches, that's a lot of inches."
An avid reader with an easy-going and relaxed manner, Johnson loves to have fun whether on or off the volleyball court.
"Outside of volleyball, I love to read. I am excited about Christmas break because I'll probably read, like, six books. It's so relaxing to read a book that a professor didn't ask me to read. I love being outside. Not necessarily doing 'outdoors-y' things, but just being outside and hanging out with people. I think that's one of the things I get from playing an inside sport. I'm inside a lot, so just getting to go and be outside and be in the fresh air is great. I love it."
While Johnson has enjoyed her success at Belmont, both on the court and in the classroom (she is a two-time Academic All-Conference selection), she admits that there have been struggles. The hardest thing, she said, has been being so far from a family she is so close to.
"Being far away from my family is hard. I'm really close to my family. The flight isn't very far. From here to Chicago it's like an hour, but not being able to go home very often is hard. It's hard for me to know that my little brother was seven when I left for college, and he's nine now, and he's going to be older when I get out and so that's hard, to know I missed that chunk of time, especially because I watched him grow from a newborn to seven years old, and then now I've missed part of it. That's the hardest part, being away from my family."
Luckily for Johnson, she has found a support system here at Belmont that has helped make the absence of her family a little easier to handle.
"My favorite thing about Belmont is athletics—the athletic department and the people there. I've become super close with my team, and I know I can depend on my coaches, but then, if I need support for anything else—academics or anything like that, I can go to anyone in the athletic department and ask for help. If they can't help me, then they can direct me to someone who can. I love the support you get here."
It would be easy to look at Johnson's biography in the media guide and only see her impressive stat line. The statistics are laudable and Johnson's performance on the court this season has helped Belmont earn another trip to the conference tournament and earned her Second Team All-Conference honors, making her the only Bruin on the team to earn All-Conference honors three seasons in a row. However, perhaps the best statement to be made about who Maggie Johnson is can be found in her own words.
"I want them to remember that I'm nice, that it was a pleasant conversation. You always know when you meet somebody, and they stick, and it was a nice conversation even if it wasn't meaningful or deep or about anything important, but you want to talk to that person again. I think that would be great if I left everyone with that impression."