Johnson stars on soccer field, volleyball court
Nile C. Kinnick junior libero Kaile Johnson digs the ball during warmups before last week'ss three-set DODDS Japan-Kanto Plain victory at Zama American. Johnson has averaged 12 defensive digs for a Red Devils team that's gone 16-0 this season, 91-1 in the last three-plus regular seasons, is the only team to win three straight DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain titles in history and finished second in last fall's Far East Division I Tournament.
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan - If Will Rogers coached Nile C. Kinnick’s girls soccer team, he might say of junior striker Kaile Johnson: “She never saw a shot she didn’t take.”
Likewise, if he coached the volleyball team, he’d likely say of Johnson, a libero: “She never saw a defensive dig she didn’t make.”
Quite the study in contrasts, this 5-foot-1 dynamo. A defensive storm anchor, she averages 12 digs per match for a Kinnick volleyball team that’s 16-0 this season, 91-1 in regular-season play dating back to the start of the 2009 season and runner up in last fall’s Far East Division I Tournament.
Yet on the pitch, she pursues goals as if she needed them to survive; she led the Pacific with 35 goals last season, when Kinnick won its fifth Kanto Plain title in 13 seasons, went 18-5-3 and finished fourth in the Far East D-I Tournament.
How is she able to turn one spigot off and the other on so seamlessly?
“Even though it may seem there are differences, there are a lot of similarities,” said Johnson, originally from Honolulu. She’s lived at Yokosuka for the last 10 years and began playing each sport while in the third grade.
Start with speed, quickness, reaction and reflexes. While important in all sports, Johnson says the unpredictable nature of which way the ball might travel make those four factors common denominators for success in each sport.
“Everything is not planned; it’s what’s in the moment, how things go in the moment,” she said.
It’s how those four factors are applied to each sport. Therein lie the differences, she said.
“In volleyball, I first see the ball played over the net and I’m anticipating what the other team will do, tip it, hit it, angle it,” she said. “It’s more about precision. You need precise passes, angles, sets and hits.”
It’s more difficult to be precise playing a ball with your feet than it is with your hands, she said, which is why perfect plays are far less commonplace on the pitch.
Perfect or otherwise, her coaches bubble over with joy at her being at Kinnick. In one team meeting, volleyball coach Al Garrido asked how many of his players feel safe with Johnson on the floor.
“They all agreed,” he said. “She makes them feel safe, makes them feel empowered to play and hit harder.”
“Her will,” Red Devils soccer coach Nico Hindie said. “She refuses to lose. She has outstanding speed, a great shot, and what drives us is she wants to score-score-score and help the team win as much as possible.”
So, which sport will she dedicate herself to when she heads off to college? At one time, the choice would have been easy (soccer), but volleyball is catching up rapidly on her priorities list.
“I’m really torn,” Johnson said. “I love volleyball right now, more digs, more thrills. I love both sports now. It’s kind of hard to pick.”
For now, she and Kinnick are girding for their biggest test of the volleyball season Saturday, when they visit American School In Japan which handed Kinnick its lone regular-season loss in three years last October.
Still, Garrido remains confident. While Kinnick may not win, Johnson “gives us a better shot at being competitive.”