It’s pretty rare for someone from this area to choose California as a destination for continuing their athletic career in college.
But for Millbrook senior Skylar Johnson, California is practically another home. And when one of the nation’s best beach volleyball programs happens to be in California and offers you a scholarship to play for them, it’s not a hard decision to switch coasts.
The 5-foot-8 Johnson will receive a partial scholarship to play for NCAA Division I Long Beach State University next year. Long Beach ended the year ranked 19th in the nation in the AVCA collegiate beach volleyball poll. Long Beach (19-14 record this spring) has frequently ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams under seventh-year head coach Mike Campbell.
Johnson has known for a long time that Long Beach would be her future home. She verbally committed to the school in October of her junior year, shortly after making an official visit.
“I just really clicked with the girls there,” said Johnson on Wednesday in a phone interview. “Everyone has such good personality, and it felt like such a good fit right from when I toured the campus and met everybody. That’s when I knew I was going to go there and knew that’s where I wanted to be.
“And it’s a big deal that Long Beach is willing to give money to me. The majority of the team is walk-ons because it’s such a new sport, so there aren’t as many scholarships. I’m super excited to go there.”
Johnson — who will study biomedical engineering — has been recruited by beach college programs since she was a freshman. Texas Christian, South Carolina and Florida State are the other schools that Johnson interacted with the most prior to Johnson’s verbal commitment to Long Beach.
Johnson is already quite familiar with California. She was born there, and many people on her father’s side of her family live in the San Diego area.
And Johnson — who has been playing beach volleyball for six years — has played in numerous tournaments in California. Johnson plays 15 to 20 tournaments a year while traveling to places like California, Florida and Texas, a state in which her older sister Tori plays college beach volleyball. Tori is a freshman at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
“I’ve been traveling to California since I was little,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she’s known since middle school that beach volleyball was the sport that she wanted to pursue after high school. Johnson stopped playing travel indoor volleyball in eighth grade so she could spend her time on beach play when she wasn’t suiting up for Millbrook. High school indoor volleyball features six players on the court at once.
“I just think [beach] is better in every aspect,” Johnson said. “The environment is so much better for beach volleyball. You get more touches with beach, and you get to click more with a partner. It’s just you and one other person, which I like a lot better. Sometimes there’s issues with big teams.”
Because beach volleyball is played in two-person teams (five pairs play for a team in a college beach volleyball match), participants need to be strong all-around players. Johnson has always been one of the area’s most versatile players for Millbrook.
During the Pioneers’ spring season this year, Johnson led Frederick County in kills (141), ranked fourth in digs (100) and was fifth in aces (19). As a junior in 2019, Johnson missed almost a month due to injury but still ranked seventh in the area in aces (51), tied for seventh in digs (140) and ranked 10th in assists (122) while adding 134 kills. She was a Region 4C second team and Class 4 Northwestern District first team selection. As a sophomore, Johnson ranked fourth in the area and led Millbrook with 306 assists.
“With her and Tori playing beach, that really helped their game,” Millbrook coach Carla Milton said. “It helped their movement, it helped their defense. They were able to take that and get it to help their indoor game as well.”
Johnson said it means a great deal to playing at the college level, and she hopes she doesn’t stop there.
“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Johnson said. “I’ve looked up to so many girls that play in college. I’m super excited for the future. I’m going to continue to work hard. I want to be at the top of the program, and maybe go pro afterwards.”
Milton said Johnson’s work ethic definitely stood out at Millbrook. It went a long way toward helping her reach this point.
“She was go go go from start to finish,” Milton said. “She never wanted to let a ball drop.
“She’s worked very hard since her freshman year in indoor and beach, and this is an incredible opportunity for her. I’m glad that it’s come to fruition for her. It just shows the hard work she’s put in over the years.”