From left to right: Tiffany, Sophie, Isabelle (Izzy), and Barry Johnson.
Isabelle Johnson (SCIS Pudong Class of 2020) has made SCIS history by being the third consecutive SCIS student-athlete, and first female athlete, to be signed on to a sports team by an NCAA ranked college. She follows in the footsteps of fellow SCIS graduates Simon Wu (SCIS Pudong Class of 2018) and Victor Veloso (SCIS Pudong Class of 2019) and will be joining Concordia College Moorhead– Minnesota Women’s volleyball program.
Firstly, congratulations! How do you feel right now finally having signed the paper?
Izzy: Incredibly excited because we’ve known since December, but now it’s finally official!
What was your initial reaction upon being offered a spot on the Concordia College team?
Izzy: Shock. I was offered a spot when I went to their camp during the summer of 2019. I wasn’t expecting anything other than just showing up and seeing how they work. But then the head coach was talking to my dad and Sophie while I was playing in a tournament, and afterward, she came up to me and offered me a spot on the team. I couldn’t believe it!
When did you first start thinking that you wanted to play NCAA volleyball?
Izzy: I remember the exact moment it happened. It was when the Sacramento State Hornets Women’s volleyball came to SCIS to practice in our gym. Watching them practice was the spark that started it all.
When and/or how did you realize that it would actually become a reality to play NCAA volleyball?
Izzy: During summer before my senior year, I was touring campuses of coaches I had reached out to and that was when I realized “ok, this is real now, I’m actually here talking to coaches and they’re asking me to join practices”.
Achieving this goal must have been a long journey and a dedicated one what was the hardest part of all of it?
Izzy: The waiting game and making a final decision. I picked the college based on the financial offers available and then what I like about the school and the programs they offered.
Aside from financial factors what other things differentiated the schools from each other when you were making your choice?
Izzy: Location with regard to who could come to visit. My grandparents live 5 hours away from campus, so they can probably come once a year, but my aunt closer and it was important that she be able to come to see me often. Attending the camps also played a big part. That’s when I started to like the team aspect as players would actually come up and interact with you. That was really important to me. My top two choices were Lakeland and Concordia, and at both schools, I was either shown around by a player or during the camp players would spend a lot of time with me. It was that small family-type feel that I really liked.
What’s one thing people should know about the recruiting process?
Izzy: Depending on when you start it’s going to take a lot of time. I started in 11th grade at the beginning of the year, but luckily, I had started making videos after 10th grade to watch my game and see where I could improve. The process will take time and so patience is a good thing to have.
What was the recruiting process like? Can you share some of the major tasks involved and how many schools you reached out to in total?
Izzy: In total, I reached out to roughly 50 schools. Going into it I knew I wanted to look at D3 and D2 schools within the state (of Minnesota) or the states next door. I then narrowed down the search by looking at schools that I liked and that were priced reasonably. That’s when I started sending emails. Emails were definitely a major task involved in the process as they are a timely process. Let’s just say I can write emails very well now! Lastly what was really helpful was the fact that I could go and visit some of the campuses. It’s important that people should know that visiting the campus makes a big difference in the process. For me, meeting with the coaches and seeing the facilities really helped.
Knowing what you know now being on this side of the recruiting process was there anything you would have done differently?
Izzy: I probably would have started earlier. When starting I didn’t think it was going to go very far as I was under the impression that playing college sport was for those who have played since they were two years old or something.
How long have you been playing volleyball?
Izzy: I started in 9th grade so not too long.
What is it about volleyball that you like the most?
Izzy: The team aspect because you have to work together and it’s really important that you’re all there for each other, both on and off the court. Like a family. Serving also comes to mind. It’s the one aspect that you can entirely control on your own. It gives you something that you can work on to get better for the team but without having to drag your teammates into it. You can stay in the gym for two hours and just go at it by yourself.
What position do you hope to play once you join the Concordia College team?
Izzy: I’m most likely going to play as a DS, which is a defensive specialist back-row player. I’m not very tall so that’s kind of the default, but I could also play libero. That probably wouldn’t happen until my last two years though, just because I’ve never played in that position before. I do know how defensive specialists work so I’m more confident and comfortable playing in that position.
You’re also on the SCIS girls’ varsity basketball and soccer teams, how did participating in those sports help you in achieving your NCAA volleyball goals?
Izzy: There are so many different skills that you can bring in from those sports that you don’t notice, like how you analyze the game and how you interact with people. With basketball being a contact sport, I learned to know what it feels like to be that close to someone and to try and read how opponents think. With soccer, I used to be a goalie and that helped me with my defensive ground game, I’m not afraid to throw myself on the ground and that directly translates to volleyball.
How has your time at SCIS helped you prepare for the next step?
Izzy: What prepared me most was sports and academics. Since our school is so small you get to know everyone quite quickly and you have to get comfortable with them knowing you will spend the next four years or something together. You interact very well with the team and it is something that I take pride in, being able to meld with the team and just interact well with them. Academically, if the workload in college is anything like the workload now then I will be fine. If it’s more I’ll get a little scared, but it shouldn’t be too alarming. If it’s less I’m going to celebrate!
Outside of sports have you decided on a major that you’d like to pursue?
Izzy: Yes, I want to pursue Physical Education with a minor in Coaching which is something they actually recommended. I’m probably going to go down that path just because later I want to continue coaching and is something, I feel like I could work well with and learn to understand more. I do have coaching experience, working with middle school volleyball and soccer. I like being able to share my knowledge and pass it on to players who might go on to play in varsity later.
It sounds like you take satisfaction in being able to share what you’ve learned along your journey?
Izzy: Absolutely. I love watching people take what you have taught them and then see them improve, it makes me really proud. For example, we had two freshmen on the team this year who, at the beginning of the season, were quiet and scared of the ball. Now, they’ve improved so much and have become key members of the team, I couldn’t be prouder.
Who would you like to thank?
Izzy: A big shout out to my parents as they were there for me the entire time. They were the first people I talked to about me wanting to make this a reality and they’ve supported me every step of the way. I couldn’t have done this entirely on my own. I also want to thank my coaches and my team. Being able to play with almost the exact same team for four straight years played a big part in making me who I am today. I used to be some little fiery kid that was really angry all the time, now I’m still fiery but a little less angry and more able to work with a team!
Any words of advice that you’d like to share with the future SCIS student-athletes and or SCIS graduates?
Izzy: It’s not impossible. As much as I thought it was impossible, it’s not. Start as early as you can by simply recording your games and putting together footage. It will not only help you work on yourself as an athlete but if you do decide to play in college it will be so much easier.
Parents, can you share with us the parental side perspective of the recruiting process?
Barry: Early on as she decided to pursue volleyball in college, we came across the challenge of us living in Shanghai and not being present in the US. We invested in a site called NCSA which put her in a database so coaches could actually see her profile. It was one of the biggest decisions we had as a family but knowing how much she wanted this, we knew it was for the best. The first step was getting her the exposure she needed, so videos played a big part in the process, then came the phone calls and e-mails.
Knowing that she’s the first one to leave the house what are some thoughts that go through your head?
Tiffany: I’m excited for her to go off on her own and spread her wings and see what real life is really like. She is going to be her own person, making her own choices and I think she has a solid foundation. Seeing where she goes from here is exciting!
Barry: We’ve watched both Izzy and Sophie play sports for the better part of four years. Three sports per year, four years, that’s a lot of watching them play. It’s really great at SCIS because as teachers, we can simply walk up to the gym or out onto the field at the end of the day to watch the games. And so, we’re going to miss that community aspect of SCIS where we can watch our kids play as both faculty and parents. Hopefully, they will have a Livestream at Concordia College so we can watch the games.
How do you think SCIS contributed to her growth, not just a student-athlete but as a person and as a student?
Tiffany: We are so thankful for SCIS. Thankful that it is a small and tight-knit community of people that all know and look out for each other. Having seen our girl go from that angry child to becoming the beautiful young lady she is now, has been incredible. She’s had so many more experiences here in a small school than she would have had at a larger school, and we are so thankful for that. She’s also had the same coach for her whole volleyball experience, knowing when to push and when to encourage, and what to work on next, skill-wise. Sports has made her who she is, and we are very grateful she went down this route.
Barry: The opportunities for her to try out these activities, from music, to fine arts, and to sports, I can’t imagine anywhere else where she would get the same chance. We were very fortunate to be a part of SCIS which gives all students the opportunity to try out different things. And lastly, the coaches, both Vic and RiaAnn Caban, have been really great throughout the process. Having them as coaches, guidance counselors, and mentors has been fantastic, and we really appreciate that.
Sophie, is there anything you want to say?
Sophie: With Izzy being obsessed with sports, she also pushed that upon me when I was younger. When I was going into high school, I originally didn’t want to join the volleyball team out of fear that I wasn’t good enough. So, every summer, Izzy and I would pepper in our backyard, she would always push me harder and bring me to school to practice with her. She’s helped me improved in all aspects of my game and I’m going to miss having her there to encourage me. And, I’m going to miss my warm-up partner before games.
Tiffany: It’s going to be a little sad watching one of them play instead of both on the same team. It definitely did bring them closer together.
Any parting comments?
Barry: Looking back, we’re glad we persevered through this process. It was all Izzy and her determination to never give up. Regardless of what we said, she just knew that she was going to play college volleyball!
Izzy: Once, Always.
In an incredibly special feat, our SCIS Pudong Varsity Girls volleyball team has made history by winning back-to-back ACAMIS championships.