WINCHESTER — At least all those poor volleyballs that Tori Johnson has been punishing with spikes for years will have a softer landing now.
Millbrook’s senior outside hitter signed her national letter of intent to play beach volleyball at NCAA Division I Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in a ceremony attended by several dozen friends, teammates, coaches and family members on Thursday at Millbrook High School.
Johnson — who smacked 1,331 kills during her career and led the area in that department for each of the last three years — will receive a combination of athletic and academic scholarship money that will cover more than half of her expenses.
“I’m just extremely excited,” said Johnson, who was named the Class 4 Northwestern District Player of the Year for the second time in three years last week.
Johnson has been playing beach volleyball since 2015. Johnson participates in about 15-20 beach competitions throughout the year and travels to places like Florida and California to do so.
“I like how it’s more individual,” Johnson said. “I can just put mistakes on myself. I know what I did wrong, and things are easier to correct.
“And I like how I can do everything. I can dig, I can run across the court, I can block. It’s not one-dimensional.”
Collegiate beach volleyball consists of two-player teams. College matches have two teams playing five matches against each other, so 10 people from each school are involved. (Corpus Christi has 18 players on its current roster.) A team victory is recorded by winning at least three of the five matches against the other school.
Two years ago, Johnson was set on playing her college ball in Florida after giving a verbal commitment to NCAA Division I Stetson University in Deland, Fla. But she decommitted in the summer of 2018 once she realized what academic trail she wanted to take.
“[When I was a sophomore], I wasn’t really sure what career path I wanted to go into,” Johnson said. “I wanted to go into nursing, and they didn’t offer that.”
Johnson said Corpus Christi first showed interest in her in January after seeing her at a showcase event in Florida with her younger sister Skylar, a junior. Johnson then visited the campus in February.
Johnson said Corpus Christi’s nursing program is just one of the many things she likes about the school, whose nickname is the Islanders.
“I love that it’s on an island,” Johnson said. “All the girls really made me feel like it was the place for me [on my visit]. I just felt very welcomed and I liked the community of it all.”
Corpus Christi is led by Gayle Stammer, who is heading into her fourth year as head coach (the beach volleyball season starts in late February). The Islanders won just one match her first season but went 12-11 in 2018 and 14-15 last year.
Johnson recorded 365 kills this year in addition to 204 digs, 24 blocks, and 40 aces. Johnson wasn’t able to finish the season because of injury, but before that she led Millbrook to a 20-2 record and helped the Pioneers clinch a spot in the Region 4C tournament.
Millbrook head coach Carla Milton said it meant a lot to her to see Johnson’s vision for her future come to fruition on Thursday.
“It’s very exciting, and bittersweet, too,” said Milton, whose voice wavered slightly as she said those words. “She’s been part of this program for four years and meant a lot to this program. She’s contributed to over 80 wins and been a starter since Day 1.
“She’s worked extremely hard and progressed every single year. I’m extremely proud of her and happy for her.”