MONTREAT — A local volleyball player had a record-setting night for Montreat College on Tuesday.
Kendra Johnson, one of the best defensive players to come through Surry County in recent years, is shining as a junior libero.
On Tuesday night, Johnson was all over the court, making 60 digs during a five-set win against Reinhardt University in an Appalachian Athletic Conference showdown.
Johnson said her previous season best was probably half that many digs. But, “my hips are bruised from all the diving on the floor.”
Similarly in high school, Surry Central coach Carrie Hutchens Bruce said she would have to patch up Kendra’s elbows despite wearing long sleeves, because the jersey and her skin were getting ripped open from dives to the hardwood court.
Not only was the 60 mark a Montreat school record, but it was also a record for the AAC. In fact, Montreat said this is the sixth-best defensive performance in the history of the NAIA.
In this match, the visiting team took the first set before Johnson’s Lady Eagles won sets two and three. Reinhardt won the fourth set, then the lead was back and forth in the final set before Montreat won 17-15.
Johnson said she knew she was involved in a lot of plays, but didn’t realize she’d gotten 60 digs.
For those not familiar with the stat, a dig is given for saving a point by stopping an attack. The defender doesn’t get a dig on a serve or a free ball on the third hit or when the spike is slowed down by a touch at the net, according to the American Volleyball Coaches of America.
On Monday, North Surry played a high school match, and the entire team only had 15 digs.
Montreat, however, faced a team with a consistent, heavy pressure at the net.
“The college game is a lot faster, I can tell you that,” said Johnson. When she was brought in as a defensive specialist as a freshman, she said it was a real shock.
In high school, her coach said Johnson had great vision and anticipation. At the faster speed of college, however, Johnson said she had to get even smarter so she could anticipate sooner.
“I feel like I have a lot more knowledge than I did in high school,” she said.
Now in her third college season, Johnson said the high school game seems so different now.
“I’ve been back (to Central), and it’s in slow motion for sure,” she said.
Over lots of practice time and game footage, Johnson knows where the ball is going before it is struck, giving her a split second longer to move.
She encourages younger players to work with older athletes like herself who understand the game. She also pointed out that there are a lot of good drills available in videos on the internet now.
A current freshman being baptized by fire is Megan Condon, of North Stokes.
Johnson said the team had a hole at setter, and both setters are freshmen, so they are seeing action early in their careers.
Condon had a big night on Tuesday with 30 assists.
“Megan has picked up the game well,” said Johnson. She is adjusting and learning to be a leader on the court.
While the college game is different, one thing that does remind her of Central is the support of the home fans.
“We pack our gym out,” said Johnson, and the crowd has a big influence on the team’s energy.
The record backs that up. The young team has struggled away from home at 0-6, but is 3-3 at home, including 2-1 in the conference.
The exercise science major said playing college sports has been great in working off the stress of school. She also believes the sport has taught her better self-discipline, time management and people skills.
While she doesn’t see herself as a teacher right now, Johnson does love her sport and can envision a time when she might help coach a local team.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.