All-Empire small-school volleyball: Kelseyville’s Johnson took on leading role

Kelseyville senior Jeannie Johnson, the All-Empire Small School Volleyball Player of the Year. (ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

Kelseyville senior Jeannie Johnson, the All-Empire Small School Volleyball Player of the Year. (ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Jeannie Johnson remembers the night when Kelseyville High’s youthful volleyball team came of age.

“We lost the first two games to Clear Lake in Lakeport in December,” the senior said. “When that happens, the losing team usually just falls apart. It was really emotional.”

It was during the team huddle before the third game that Johnson did exactly what head coach Donelle McCallister had hoped she would do as the senior star of an inexperienced team.

“We asked her to do so many things on the court,” the coach said of Johnson. “But we really needed her to take our young players and help them along. She took great care of them.”

Johnson and co-captain Mary McCallister told the younger mates that the match against Clear Lake wasn’t lost.

“I just said, ‘We can do this. The match isn’t over. We can win. So let’s go out there and kick butt.’ And we did,” Johnson said. “The other co-captain and I tried to be really positive and our teammates stepped up.”

That led to Kelseyville defeating Clear Lake that night and, now, to Johnson being selected the All-Empire Small School Girls Volleyball Player of the Year.

“The season went better than I could have ever imagined,” Johnson said after her team won the North Central League I with a 13-1 mark (25-8 overall). “We only had two seniors and a bunch of young players. To have that type of season just blew my mind.”

Johnson’s season performance was something that her coach had been waiting for since she first played on the varsity as a freshman.

“We were playing a preseason match against Ukiah and all of a sudden I saw Jeannie doing things we’d never seen before,” Donelle McCallister said. “She’s not big, but she has long arms and can really jump. That day it was like, ‘That’s what we’ve been waiting for.’ And she just kept getting better.”

While Johnson took quickly to leading a team that needed her all over the court, it was the mantle of leadership that challenged the star.

“At the beginning of the season, being a senior and having to guide young players was a pretty big burden to bear,” Johnson said. “By midseason, though, it wasn’t hard at all. The players really responded and things went smoothly.”

Coach McCallister explained exactly how valued Johnson was during a match.

“She far exceeded the goals we set for her,” she said. “We lost kids to injuries or to moving away, so at the beginning of the season … we just had Jeannie. We used her a lot. We moved her around. Out of 300 or so serves, she missed on very, very few. She’s a middle blocker, but she did everything we asked of her.”

Johnson is a multisport star who actually agrees with the growing trend toward athletes choosing one sport and focusing on it.

“Looking back, I think if you have a sport you can play in college, you should focus on that sport,” Johnson said. “I enjoy other sports, but I wish now I’d just focused on volleyball and put in more time and energy. It could’ve opened doors for me for college.”

The coach is working with Johnson to get attention from college coaches who, likely, didn’t pay close attention to Kelseyville’s amazing campaign.

“We’re putting together a video to send to college coaches,” Johnson said. “If that doesn’t attract college attention, I’ll just go to a state school and try out for volleyball. I intend to keep playing.”

ALL-EMPIRE SMALL SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jeannie Johnson, senior, Kelseyville

FIRST TEAM
Mary McCallister, junior, Kelseyville
Sarah Campos, junior, Roseland Prep
Erica Crean, junior, St. Helena
Brianna Ortiz, senior, Middletown
Tavi Hillesland, Mendocino, junior
Stephany Garcia, senior, Anderson Valley

SECOND TEAM
Stephanie Martines, senior, Roseland Prep
Alex Farber, sophomore, Anderson Valley
Hannah Sarlatte, junior, St. Vincent
Tara Tsarnas, senior, Rincon Valley Christian
Danielle Andersen, senior, Anderson Valley
Aliza Atkins, junior, Clear Lake

COACH OF THE YEAR
Michael McDonald, Anderson Valley

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