After turning down offers to continue her playing career on the collegiate level a year ago, a former Bradley Central volleyball standout will be returning to the court and the game she loves this …
After turning down offers to continue her playing career on the collegiate level a year ago, a former Bradley Central volleyball standout will be returning to the court and the game she loves this fall.
“I had offers to play (in college), but I felt like I wanted to stay close to home and concentrate on my schooling,” related Monica Johnson, who passed up opportunities to play for Maryville College, Coastal Georgia and Bryan College among others and is currently a freshman at Lee University.
“I found that I miss the game more than I thought I would. When the opportunity came along, a little over a month ago, I thought it was a good chance to get back into it.”
Not only is the 6-foot-1 middle hitter/blocker getting a chance to play again, but also be a part of something special.
“The opportunity to be a part of the first-ever team at Cleveland State is exciting,” she proclaimed just before signing her scholarship papers Friday in the Cougar Room of L. Quentin Lane Gymnasium.
“I know most of the girls because of playing with them or against them in high school and club ball. I’m looking forward to getting to know more and be a part of a team that will help build the Cleveland State program for the future.”
Johnson, a three-year starter for the Bearettes, became the fifth Lady Cougar signee, joining former Bradley teammate Reagan Morrison, as well as Chattanooga standouts Libby Smith (Berean Academy), Ariana Smith (Sale Creek) and Courtlyn Martino (GPS).
“We hope to have 14-15 total (players),” explained Cleveland State head coach Randy Evans. “I started with a couple of outstanding players I knew (the Smiths) and asked them who they wanted to play with and who would make good teammates.
“I’ve know Monica for years and am glad she’s decided to be a part of what we are doing here. Her being a year older than the other players, we will look to her to help provide leadership. She’ll be a strong presence for us in the middle with her defense and her power attacking the ball.”
“Once she gets back into the swing of things, she’ll be a big plus to our program,” he said, no pun intended.
“I’ve been to a couple of ‘open gym’ sessions and I will have to get back into playing shape, but I don’t think that will be a problem,” related Johnson, who played club ball locally and in Chattanooga for several years, along with her four seasons at Bradley. “I hope to be able to continue to play at a four-year school as I work toward my K-5 Elementary Education degree after here as well.”
With Cleveland State and two other Tennessee junior colleges adding volleyball this fall, Coach Evans said his squad will be playing several four-year programs this coming season.
“They (the National Junior College Athletic Association) are putting us, Walters State (Morristown) and Southwest Tennessee (Memphis) in our own region and we’ll compete to see who goes on to the national tournament,” he related. “Junior college volleyball is big in other parts of the country, but it is just now starting here (in Tennessee).
“We’ll play a lot of four-year programs JV teams, and even some of the varsity teams from some of the smaller ones, and we will go to some tournaments. We’ve already have signed up for one in Panama City (Fla.).
“Playing the four-year schools will allow our girls to be seen by those programs and hopefully get them opportunities to go play for them when they leave here.”
While Evans’ coaching experience at Silverdale Baptist and Knoxville Christian academies was more in basketball, he does have some volleyball coaching experience and will lean heavily on assistant coach Alizabeth Atnip, a collegiate volleyball standout from Michigan.
“What I know more is people. I know a lot of athletes in the area and have many coaching contacts,” explained Coach Evans. “Alizabeth is a great addition to our program. She brings her playing and coaching expertise. With her experience, the players will relate to her very well.
“We have several more players interested in coming to play here, because we are offering them an opportunity to play close to home and get a chance to be seen on a bigger scale,” he added.
Evans is slated to sign a pair of Walker Valley players — Hannah Calfee and Kate Essenburg — later this week, plus has been talking with several others in the southeast Tennessee area.
“We had one open tryout that we got three prospects out of, plus I had another top player call me the other day and say she was ready to commit,” Coach Evans explained. “We’ll have another open tryouts soon, plus we’ve got several other players we’re talking with.”
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