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Copley grad enjoying professional volleyball in Great Britain

12/18/2008 - West Side Leader
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By Sean Patrick

Denise Johns working to qualify for 2012 Olympics

Copley High School graduate Denise Johns, at left, is shown during one of her professional volleyball games with a teammate.
Photo courtesy of Féderation Internationale de Volleyball
COPLEY — Of the 14 members in the recently inducted inaugural class of the Copley High School Athletic Hall of Fame, only one athlete is still active as a player. But it would be difficult for most to see Denise Johns play in person.

Johns, a member of Copley’s Class of 1996, was an all-state performer during her high school career in swimming, track and volleyball. However, it is that last sport where Johns makes her living — as a professional volleyball player in Great Britain.

Johns, who came home this past weekend to take part in the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, is a member of the Great Britain National Beach Volleyball Team.

“My partner and I are currently the No. 1 team in Great Britain and are hoping to qualify for the 2012 Olympics,” Johns said.

Denise Johns attended Copley High School’s boys basketball game Dec. 12. All the Athletic Hall of Fame inductees were honored during a halftime ceremony and received a plaque.
Photo: Mike Pancoe
Johns, who went to college at the University of Cincinnati, has enjoyed a lot of success overseas.

“Well, I’ve only lost one match out of 56 in the three years playing in the U.K.,” she said. “We did fairly well at the end of this season on the FIVB [Féderation Internationale de Volleyball]. Out of the last six tournaments, we qualified five times and won a few matches. We beat a team in the top 10 and had some close matches with some teams in the top three.”

Johns said she works well with her teammate, Shauna Mullin.

“Since it’s only a team of two people, we share almost all the roles,” she said. “I mostly play defense while [Shauna] blocks. But sometimes we switch.”

Johns said she is the quieter person of the two, “so Shauna does most of the talking.”

Johns said she is able to play on the Great Britain National Beach Volleyball Team because of her father, Martin Johns.

“My dad is British, which gives me dual citizenship with the United States and the U.K.,” she said. “He moved to Copley 26 years ago, after living in Luxembourg for five years, where I was born.”

After playing the U.S. tour in the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) for two years, Johns said she discovered she could play internationally for Great Britain.

“I played a bit with another girl who had dual citizenship and lived two hours away in Venice Beach,” said Johns. “We played pretty well, so Great Britain asked me to come to the national squad camp in Spain. I guess they liked what they saw, because they put me with the best player at the time, Lucy Boulton.”

Johns said she also continued to play on the AVP tour, but when “London got the 2012 Olympic bid, they started putting money into beach volleyball to create a program.”

Johns joined that national program in 2006 and moved to Los Angeles to train.

“The next year, I followed the program when it relocated to Bath, England,” she said.

Johns said she is in the process of trying to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

“Beach volleyball will be played outside Buckingham Palace,” she said, “so that would be an amazing experience.”

According to Johns, the biggest difference of playing away from home is the weather.

“I never experienced playing beach volleyball in the freezing rain until I moved to England,” she said. “It’s such a difference from California.”

Playing in Great Britain also has changed how Johns has trained.

“When I played in the AVP, I was my own boss,” she noted. “I employed my own coach and set my own training schedule and hours. Since I’ve joined the British program, I have less say in what goes on.”

Johns lives in Bath, England, all year “except for the five months that we travel.” During those five months, Johns said, she is “probably only home for three weeks in between tournaments.”

She lives with her boyfriend, Jody Gooding, who also is a member of the British national team.

“We live in a 175-year-old little cottage outside of Bath,” she said. “It’s quaint.”

Johns said she doesn’t mind the amount of travel that volleyball requires.

“I love meeting people from all over the world. I also love exploring new countries. It gives me a different perspective on life,” she said. “I’ve made friends with the Brazilians, the Danish, the Kiwis, the Australians, the French, the Swiss and even the Angolans. Everyone has so much in common, and while we’re just big kids playing a game, we’re also professionals who have to take the sport seriously.”

Johns, who has played on every continent except Africa and Antarctica, said her favorite place to visit is Phuket, Thailand.

But with all of her travel, there is one thing she especially misses about America — the food.

“I know its bad for me, but I love Chipotle and Mountain Dew,” she said. “Of course, I also miss my family and friends, too.”

Johns said she is able to get back to Copley once a year, “usually for Thanksgiving, because that coincides with my end-of-season break.”

When Johns came home this year, she was greeted with a special surprise.

“My friends, Melissa Quatraro, who I ran track with, and Vicki Waldsmith, who I played volleyball with, my boyfriend and my parents threw me a party after the [Hall of Fame] induction [game] on Friday [Dec. 12],” she said. “It was one of the greatest days of my life.”

Johns said she is proud of being in the Copley High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

“My induction was probably the greatest award I’ve ever received,” she said. “It was incredibly inspiring listening to all the other inductees at the Hall of Fame Ceremony. I feel unworthy to be amongst such great athletes. The committee put on an amazing ceremony. It truly was an honor.”

Johns said that what she learned at Copley High School has been a great help to her during her volleyball career.

“I learned about hard work while swimming under Ed Burnsed on the Copley team. I know that if I can swim and work out for five hours straight, I can do anything,” she said. “I learned how to deal with pressure while running for Coach Tom Snell. He had a record of winning the Suburban League and I didn’t want to mess it up. I learned about enjoying the game [of volleyball] and working as a team under Coach [Steve] Coon. We had a team full of close friends and natural athletes. Copley is the perfect environment to nurture your talents.”

For more about Johns and to keep up with her volleyball career, visit www.denisejohns.com.

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