By: Charlie Lott
Furman volleyball’s bounceback season has been characterized by crisp and clean play, determination and hard work off the court. Junior captain and outside hitter Jamila Johnson has exemplified the team throughout by supporting her teammates and taking care of business in both her athletic and her academic pursuits.
After finishing last season 11-19, the first losing record since 2005, the Paladins finished the 2017 season 13-2 in conference play, taking home the regular season Southern Conference championship. The season was capped off by two victories this weekend, which included sweeps of both Samford and Mercer. Johnson had six kills and 13 digs against Samford, and the next night 11 kills, nine digs, and no errors against Mercer.
For Johnson and the rest of the team, the key has been the chip on their shoulders coming off of last season. “All the returners were just so motivated by last season and how it turned out. After January we really just buckled down and focused throughout the offseason, and worked hard and got better in every way we could,” explains Johnson. That work effort and determination starts from the top down, with the team’s captains and starters setting an example for everyone.
According to head coach Michelle Young, the root of Johnson and her teammates’ focus is competition behind the scenes. “If you take a day off or a practice off, there’s someone who can take your job right away and do some good things out there,” says Young. Johnson agrees that this depth is integral to their success. “We have great competition on the team, I mean, everyone wants to play, and there’s only six spots,” she adds.
At 5’7”, Johnson is undersized for an outside hitter. But she doesn’t let that hold her back. “I always play with a chip on my shoulder, because of last season and because I’m kind of too small to be a hitter,” says Johnson, “But I just try to keep working hard and take to heart everything my coach tells me to try and get better every day.”
Even after winning the Southern Conference, Johnson is still constantly working to improve. “We still need to work on the meat of the game, we come out strong and then let our opponents come back, which is why so many sets have ended so dramatically for us,” says Johnson. “We like to make it exciting sometimes, but we really don’t have to do that,” she laughs.
Johnson has not only been the consummate professional on the court throughout her career as a Paladin, but also in the classroom. She made the Southern Conference Academic Honor Roll during both her freshman and sophomore seasons, and has maintained that same level of rigor in her studies this year.
In spite of all this success, Johnson’s eyes are still firmly on the future. “We were really focused on winning SoCon, but hen also beyond that winning in the first round of the NCAA tournament,” she says. “Our preseason tournaments went so well, so we think we really do have a great chance against the bigger teams like Tennessee and Georgia Tech.” Johnson already exemplifies the qualities of an Influential Paladin, thanks to both her athletic and academic success. If the volleyball team manages to win against one of those big volleyball programs on the national stage, it’ll put her on a level all her own.