GREENVILLE—Jamila Johnson thinks nothing of driving an hour in each direction to practice with her club volleyball team.
Her level of dedication is one of the factors that helped make her the Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year for South Carolina.
Jamila first started playing the sport when she was 8. By the time she was 11, a coach recognized a high level of natural talent and potential and suggested she take private lessons.
When Jamila was in eighth grade, her family — parents Robert and Devena, older brother Justin, and twin brother Issa — moved from Indiana to Greenville. They chose St. Joseph’s Catholic School, where she promptly joined the volleyball team.
Jan Carino, school volleyball coach, said her team has won the state volleyball championship all four years that Jamila has played.
“She’s the best skilled player I’ve ever coached,” said Carino, whose career spans almost 25 years. “I’ve never had a player as strong as she is — her arm strength and arm speed are amazing.”
An outside hitter, Jamila led the Knights to a 41-3 record this season, with a state championship, and posted 430 kills, 204 digs, 183 service receptions, 41 service aces and 19 blocks.
At 5’8″, she isn’t that tall for a volleyball player, but Carino said she has a good vertical jump, is smart on the court, and is seriously competitive.
“Most of the time when she was given the ball we won the point,” the coach said. “She loves the game, for sure.”
She loves it so much that for the past year she’s driven from Greenville to Columbia to play for the Magnum Volleyball Club, saying she loves the passion and dedication of the players and coaches, and the high intensity of competition.
A desire for the best is a trait Jamila brings to other areas of her life, too. A member of student council and three honor societies — national, history and Spanish — she also volunteers as a youth volleyball instructor, and at The Salvation Army and Ronald McDonald House.
She has a 4.06 grade-point average and is looking at several universities, noting that Furman is a top choice. She aspires to a career as a geneticist, with hopes for finding a cure for cancer and other diseases.
For now, she is basking in the surprise of winning the Gatorade player of the year award.
“I wasn’t sure I could get it coming from a 1-A school,” she said. “It was overwhelming — I really didn’t see it coming.”
Jamila is also a two-time Class A player of the year, and played on All- Star, All-State and All-Region teams.
Each year, the Gatorade program recognizes one winner in each state in football, baseball, softball, girls volleyball, and boys and girls cross country, basketball, soccer, and track and field.