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Canyon Softball's Nicole Johnson
The Complete Package
May, 2008 - Issue #43
Nicole Johnson
Nicole Johnson
Nicole Johnson's most exciting moment on a softball field occurred in Colorado three years ago. She was playing in the championship game for her summer travel team, the Krushers, against a team that had beaten them the day before.

Johnson proceeded to hit home runs to left field off the first two pitchers she faced. Then, against a third pitcher, she launched a shot over the wall in right center.

Three pitchers. Three home runs. One championship for the Krushers.

"I guess the pitchers thought since I hadn't seen them [in the game] yet, they could get me out," says Johnson.
Big mistake. But where Johnson is concerned, such mistakes have been common.

A four-year varsity starter at Canyon High, she has been terrorizing Foothill League pitchers since the beginning. She hit over .400 as a freshman, garnering team Offensive Player of the Year honors and the first of three straight All-Foothill League second team selections.

She followed with a .365 sophomore season that saw her lead the team with 16 RBI. Last year, she slugged her way to a .414 batting average and led the team with nine stolen bases. She also pitched 122 innings, going 8-12 for a Cowboy team that finished 13-15 and 4-6 in the ultra-competitive Foothill League.

This year, the senior third baseman is batting .344 through Canyon's first 12 games and leads the team with seven RBI.

When it comes to hitting a softball, Johnson is a natural.

"I was really hyper when I was a kid," she says. "My parents had to put in me in something. So they signed me up for t-ball when I was 5."

By the time Johnson was old enough to face live pitching, she was belting line drives. Eventually, she switched from Canyon Country little league to the tougher Hart league for a stiffer challenge. No matter. Wherever she played, she hit.

"After two years of playing Hart little league, I tried out for the Krushers," she says. "That really opened my eyes. You're playing with the best in the country."

Johnson found similar success on that stage as well.

"We've been to nationals the past 4 of 5 years," she says.

That kind of team success has not been so easy to find in high school, however. Canyon, a team that would compete for league titles in many neighboring communities, has struggled to crack the upper echelon of the Foothill League. Through her first three years on the team, the Cowboys have posted a combined league record of 6-22.

But you have to consider the competition. Valencia is the defending national champion, after all. And the team Valencia beat to win the CIF championship last spring was Hart.

"To be honest, it's not hard for me to see that," Johnson says of the success her rivals have enjoyed. "I play with those girls in the summer, so I'm happy for them."

Last summer, Johnson teamed with players from Valencia, Hart and West Ranch on the 18-under Gold So Cal Choppers travel team. The Choppers played their way to nationals at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma, where the U.S. Olympic team plays. Together, they finished third.

The best was yet to come.
"For me, the biggest thing is two words: I WILL. Don't say, 'I can.' Everyone knows you can. It's a question of if you will," ~ Nicole Johnson

In November, Johnson signed a letter of intent to play softball for Cal-State Fullerton on a full-ride scholarship.

"That was really cool," she says. "I didn't see myself getting a full-ride. My jaw just dropped [when I got the offer]. That was a really happy day."

For all of her natural talent, Johnson's success is as much due to what she does between games. A relentless worker, she has mastered the craft of making the most out of her gifts.

"She works hard," says first-year Canyon coach Mike Rego. "You have to punish her by taking the bat out of her hands at practice. She'll work all day long."

Johnson's work ethic stems from her belief in herself. Softball offers even the best players ample opportunity to fail - no one bats 1.000. But the pursuit of perfection drives her. It informs her attitude.

"For me, the biggest thing is two words: I will," she says. "Don't say, 'I can.' Everyone knows you can. It's a question of if you will."

Johnson's can-do approach is infectious. She preaches it constantly to teammates. She demands it of herself; she expects it from everyone else.

Daniel Garcia, who serves as Johnson's youth pastor at North Oaks Church of Christ in Canyon Country, has seen Johnson put that principle into practice. He has seen her serve and he has seen her lead.

"She's got great character," he says. "Our group goes from junior high through high school, so being a senior automatically makes her a leader. But she always was a leader. She is a quiet leader, but she's not afraid to step into the forefront."

That leadership led her to become involved in the church's community activities, which have included the SCV Walk for Hunger, cleaning up the wash in Canyon Country, and clearing debris out of lots in Pacoima for Habitat for Humanity. In the coming months, Johnson and the youth group will support Habitat's work on behalf of SCV fire victims.

"It's not easy for Nicole to be involved like she is because of her softball commitments," Garcia says. "But she finds a way. She has worked hard to be involved, even though she's busy."
Johnson's commitment to lead shows up on the field as well. She admits that most teammates have heard her "I will" speech at least once. And it's not uncommon to see her standing in the middle of a group of teammates, talking about the finer points of hitting a softball.

"There aren't too many kids I'll hand players over to and let them work together, but she's one of them," Rego says. "She really helps out the younger players."

Johnson doesn't know where softball will ultimately take her. She's always dreamed of playing in the Olympics, but she knows she'll have to make room for others aspirations such as family.

She also wants to coach.

"There's no way I can stay away from this game," she says. "I know I'll coach someday."

In many ways, she already does.

"I love helping people. I love talking about the mental approach to the game. A good leader is always trying to build confidence in someone else. A good leader leads by example. You can't tell someone to work harder and then not do it yourself."

For Johnson, that example has borne fruit on the softball field, at church, and in the community. Coaches will say she's the complete package. Opposing pitchers will most likely agree.

So does her youth pastor.

"It's been awesome to see her grow on the softball field. But to see her grow in life - for me, that's the best thing. That's what it's all about."
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