Kelly Johnson ’16 is a setter on the volleyball team from Palos Verdes, Calif. During her career at Palos Verdes High School, Johnson was an All-Area selection twice and captained the varsity team her junior and senior years. This season, she is second on the team in kills and assists with 91 and 185, respectively, and was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week on Sept. 18. The News sat down with her to discuss her high school career, beach volleyball, and the transition to the college game.
Q When did you start playing volleyball? Were you playing other sports at the time?
A I started when I was 11. I was playing volleyball, basketball, soccer and softball. I loved sports as a kid, and I still love them all. Once I got into high school, I quit all the other sports and I just focused on volleyball.
Q When did you realize you would have the opportunity to play at the collegiate level?
A In my sophomore year of high school. That’s when most of the college coaches come to tournaments and start the recruiting process, so it was around then that I realized I could go to college and play volleyball.
Q What is the volleyball culture in Los Angeles like?
A It’s very intense. There are over 200 club teams just in Southern California in each age division. If you see a tall girl on the street, she’s probably a volleyball player. It’s also big because of the beach.
Q I know that volleyball players tend to play different positions throughout their careers. When did you begin playing setter?
A I was a hitter up until my sophomore year of high school, and I had a pretty bad shoulder injury. I didn’t want to stop altogether so I started setting for my team. I set for a couple years and just did exercises to strengthen my shoulder and then I was able to go back to hitting and setting. That’s what I did my senior year and that is what I’m doing here now at Yale.
Q What do you think makes for a good setter?
A I think to be a good setter, you have to be confident in your team. You have to have a large leadership role on the team. You have to be able to keep your hitters confident, and you have to be able to pump up your hitters. A good setter is very aware of the court and what’s happening on the other side of the net as well.
Q What makes you feel better — getting a kill or an assist?
A I don’t know. They’re both pretty good. They’re just different. When you set someone and they get a kill, you feel like you helped out a teammate, but when Kendall [Polan ’14] gives me the perfect set and I get a kill, it’s also great. They’re both great feelings. The kill is probably a bit better, but I love the set as well.
Q From reading the [Yale Athletics] website, I saw that you’ve played some beach volleyball. What was the extent of your experience in that sport?
A I started playing when I was 13. I wouldn’t have much time during the year because club was so intense, but during the summer I was at the beach quite frequently playing. It’s really fun because you can get a big group of people and go practice whenever you want. This summer and last summer were probably my two biggest summers playing beach volleyball.
Q Did you play competitively or just recreationally?
A I played in tournaments. The California Beach Volleyball Association and the [Amateur Athletic Union] beach volleyball league are two leagues that sponsor tournaments, and I would travel with my partner to the different tournaments.
Q How did playing beach volleyball help your indoor game?
A It really helps because beach volleyball is a lot about strategy and where to place the ball. It helps if you’re a hitter because it helps your vision of the other side of the court and helps you place the ball in spots where they’re not. It also helps you get a better vision of where they are. Overall, it makes you a smarter volleyball player.
Q: What did you enjoy watching more in the Olympics — beach volleyball or indoor volleyball?
A: I liked watching beach volleyball more. I’m a big Misty May [Treanor] and Kerri Walsh fan.
Q: On the court, you play setter alongside Polan. What has it been like playing the same position as a great player like her?
A: It is an absolutely unbelievable working with her. I could not have gotten luckier having a setter and hitter like her. She’s a phenomenal player and helps me so much with having confidence in myself and teaching me what the other hitters like because she has played with them longer. She gives me feedback on my sets and teaches me how Yale volleyball works.
Q: The freshman class has already been asked to contribute in a big way this year. How do you think you guys have responded to that pressure?
A: I think the freshmen are responding well. We’re all pretty nervous, but we just try to put it aside and play the best we can.