FARMINGTON — Before the 2012 volleyball season, Piedra Vista had never sent a girl on to play Division I volleyball.
This season, two Lady Panthers have inked National Letters of Intent with D1 programs.
Olivia Johnson became the latest Piedra Vista player to sign with a D1 college on Friday when she faxed her letter of intent to Fairleigh Dickinson University's Metropolitan Campus in New Jersey.
Between a $17,000 in academic scholarships each year and her volleyball scholarship, Johnson will earn $43,000 per year toward her college education.
“I didn't think in a million years I would be signing D1 and the opportunity fell in my lap,” Johnson said. “Their coach (Stacy Recanati) saw me play at a national qualifier tournament with my club team in Denver. I wasn't even talking to her about recruiting or anything but she happened to see me. That never happens. It was just lucky and all meant to be. Her coaches sat and watched my game and they were desperate for outside hitters so she called me the next week and it just kind of happened.”
Katie Hegarty was the first Lady Panther to sign a D1 scholarship when she signed with Southern Methodist University in the fall.
“It is a big honor. Katie definitely has a killer instinct and she elevates every one. She has helped me a lot,” Johnson said. “With us almost winning state this year and Katie and I both signing D1, I feel like we are putting PV volleyball on the map.”
PV head coach Ron Becker was thrilled to see another one of his players help elevate the program.
“I think it is pretty amazing and impressive to our program. It is a testament to the girls who have worked really hard. Both have put the extra effort into it. They are both very deserving of it as far as I am concerned. Hard work has really paid off for both of them in this case.”
The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights compete in the NCAA's Northeast Conference against teams such as Long Island University-Brooklyn and Robert Morris University.
More important to Johnson, Fairleigh Dickinson offers the exact field of studies she desired with a volleyball program that ranks in the top 10 percent in the nation in academics.
Johnson plans on earning a Bachelor's Degree in electrical engineering and a Master's in computer engineering in five years. But the reward of continuing her volleyball career is something Johnson has been working toward for years.
“I always knew I wanted to play in college, but I was looking more at Division II and NAIA schools. Going to practice three to five hours with club, you get so far you feel like you almost have to play in college,” she said.
Playing club volleyball is a great opportunity for players to be seen by D1 coaches, said PV head coach Ron Becker.
“I know there is a lot of split-decisions over that, but I think club is a huge thing,” he said. “You go to these tournaments and 500 to 600 coaches are there looking for players. That is how it happened for (Johnson). The college coaches have a field day out there.”
Johnson credited Becker, who also coaches her club team in Durango, for his efforts to help her get to the level she has reached.
“He has always been by my side. He spends so much time outside of the high school season, and that is where I really have to thank him,” she said. “The time he spends during the club season is incredible.”
Becker said Johnson's attitude will help Fairleigh Dickinson as much as her play on the floor.
“She has so much heart, hard work and dedication. She has one of the best attitudes of any player I have ever coached,” Becker said. “I will miss that in the gym. Every day, no matter what, she comes with a good mood and is happy to be there and enjoying life. She is a positive, go-getting person who will bring a ton of energy to that team and a work ethic that is second to none.”
Johnson admits she is a bit nervous to move to the east coast, but she sees it as another learning opportunity.
“My parents always wanted me to go to the east coast. It will be different out there, but it will be good to grow out there,” she said. “I always wanted to go and play in big gyms. Finally having the chance to get there and have younger kids watch and to be a person they will look up to will be the best feeling in the world.”
John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2..