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By JOE JUDD
Daily News Sports Editor
Kreylynn Johnson is only a few weeks away from starting her first semester of college at the University of Alaska Anchorage, but she is already well into training for her first season of collegiate volleyball.
A member of the Ketchikan High School class of 2016, Johnson has spent the past couple of weeks on the hardwood, preparing to suit up for a program that barely missed winning a Division II national championship a season ago.
Johnson, a soon-to-be health sciences major, said she has been fitting into her new environment well, but said that she still definitely feels like a freshman once again, despite her comfort level in Alaska’s largest city.
“I’m learning college volleyball is a lot different than high school volleyball,” Johnson said on Friday afternoon. “I’m learning how to do things completely different than I did them in high school.”
Adding to the challenge of being a first-year collegiate athlete, Johnson will assume the role of defensive specialist, a position she did not play during her time in maroon and white.
Johnson said the primary difference, among many, between the high school and the college style of volleyball is the level of intensity and commitment to the game.
“In college, everyone is here because they want to be here,” Johnson said. “We have two practices for two hours every day, and then we do weights, so it’s a lot more intense. I love it.”
UAA’s upperclassmen have also been able to show Johnson the ropes, both on and off the court, which she said has eased her transition to the bigger stage of collegiate volleyball.
Johnson said that the team’s older players, in addition to the coaching staff, have done a good job of making the freshmen on the squad feel welcome as the new season approaches.
“The seniors are awesome,” Johnson said. “They make it pretty easy and make all of the freshmen feel welcome.”
All members of this year’s volleyball team live with each other, which Johnson said has added to the closeness with her teammates.
“We see each other every waking second,” Johnson said. “We eat dinner together every night at a booster’s house — it’s pretty cool.”
A year ago, UAA turned in a successful season and was ranked as highly as seventh in the nation at one point during the regular season.
The Sea Wolves rode their strong regular season into a playoff run, which took them all the way to the D II National Championship game, where they fell to Concordia College in three sets, 3-0.
With the recent success of UAA’s volleyball program, Johnson said that she feels a little bit of added pressure joining the team.
It has taken her a little while comprehend and get acclimated with the caliber of volleyball talent showcased at the Alaska Airlines Center season in and season out.
“I still get frustrated sometimes because I’m still learning how (my coaches) want me to pass the ball,” Johnson said. “I forget that these servers that are passing at me are the second-best in the country. There’s definitely a lot of pressure there but it’s good pressure.”
Ready to take on the pressure of a new role on a new team, Johnson said that UAA was always her first choice as far as college was concerned, citing her love of the school and the state of Alaska as reasons for enrolling.
Representatives from UAA even attended a Kayhi volleyball game in Anchorage when Johnson was still playing in high school.
“When I flew up (to Anchorage) for my visit, I just fell in love with it,” Johnson said. “I wanted to stay in Alaska because I love Alaska. I love the program; everybody works really hard.”
Johnson will be one of six Alaskans on this year’s volleyball roster and she is also one of four incoming freshmen this season.
During her time as a Kayhi Lady King, Johnson was also a member of the varsity women’s basketball team, as well as team captain and team MVP of the volleyball team her senior year.
An honor roll student at Kayhi, Johnson said she has a few memories that stand out to her more than others when it comes to her high school volleyball career, including Kayhi’s most recent trip to the state tournament in Anchorage, where she was able to play on the same court as UAA’s student-athletes.
Johnson said that she especially misses being with her former teammates.
“I’m going to miss traveling with the team that I had and housing out with rivals,” Johnson said. “High school is a great time to have fun and make relationships with teammates.”
For the current group of Kayhi volleyball players who will begin their season later this month with the annual Volleyball Jamboree, Johnson said that it is important for them to realize that high school can go by quickly and to work hard while they are still there, while still having fun.
Thinking back to Ketchikan, Johnson said the aspect she missed the most about being back home is her family.
UAA’s volleyball team is set to begin its season on Aug. 25, with the annual Sea Wolf alumni exhibition game.
The Sea Wolves will then play their first official regular season match on Sept. 1 against the University of California San Diego in the Point Loma Invitational, set in San Diego.