Chasing a Dream

June 10, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Stacy Johnson dreamt about what it would be like to don the red, white and blue and represent her country. After receiving an invitation to try out for the 2011 USA Softball Team, her dream could turn into reality.

Johnson is one of 37 athletes who will travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., next week for the 2011 USA Softball Women’s National Team Selection Camp. The team will be announced June 17.

For Johnson, it is an opportunity she’s thought about, but one that she never envisioned would become reality.

“I had it in my mind a lot more when I was younger, but it was more of a dream than anything,” said Johnson, who wrapped up her first season as assistant coach for the Iowa softball program. “When you’re a kid and you play softball in this country, that’s what you look toward.

“To be honest, in neither high school nor college, I had no idea I would play softball at this level.”

After finishing a stellar playing career for the Hawkeyes where she started every game and was a three-time NFCA all-Midwest Region and all-Big Ten selection, Johnson wasn’t convinced she was good enough to compete at “that” level.

“Stacy plays with extreme passion and consistency. She brings a veteran mature approach to the game and is one of the best that I’ve had the pleasure to play alongside and with.”
Jennie Finch, 2004 Olympic Gold medalist

“I remember my friend asking me, my first year out of college, ‘Is USA Softball something that you would ever do?’ said Johnson. “My honest response at that time was I don’t feel like I am at that level.

“I do think that was true five years ago. What I didn’t know is that I wasn’t as far away as I thought. I think I was right, but I think I was a lot closer than I realized. Really, the last five years have been about me improving.

“Not to say that I was terrible five years ago, but I certainly wasn’t the same player that I am now. That’s kind of the progression. I never thought about it because I simply didn’t think I was good enough.”

Johnson made the jump to the next level after playing five seasons in the National Professional Fastpitch (NPF) league for the Chicago Bandits. In her final season with the team, she was the league’s Most Valuable Player and an all-star. She finished her career as one of the most decorated players in NPF history, being recognized as the NPF Rookie of the Year, two-time NPF League MVP and three-time NPF All-Star.

“Stacy plays with extreme passion and consistency,” said Jennie Finch, Johnson’s former Bandits teammate and a 2004 Olympic Gold medalist. “She brings a veteran mature approach to the game and is one of the best that I’ve had the pleasure to play alongside and with.”

After hanging up her spikes to return to her alma mater as an assistant coach, Johnson felt her playing career was over. That was until she heard her name floating around the USA Softball circles.

“I thought I was going to be done playing before I had this opportunity come to me in the last few months,” said Johnson. “When I started hearing my name floating around for potentially being invited to USA tryouts, it was pretty exciting.”

In preparation for the tryout, Johnson has spent hours in the weight room working on strength and speed training, agility and general softball skills. In recent weeks, she returned to Chicago to get more live action in training with the Bandits.

“I feel I am in as good of physical condition as I have ever been,” said Johnson. “I am trying to get my game on point. You go hot, you go cold. That’s the way the game is played, but I am hoping to be hot in the next couple of weeks.”

Johnson will compete for one of the approximately 17 spots against a number of collegiate players who enter the week in peak form having recently completed the 2011 NCAA season.

“The disadvantage I have is that they’re (the other invitees) are coming off of a 55-60 game season, so they’re in peak midseason form,” said Johnson. “Obviously I have not seen that much live action for about nine months.

“The advantage I have is that I have played against the best competition out there. If I can mentally get myself into midseason form, physically the pieces will fall into place.”

Johnson is not taking the tryout lightly, as she knows this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I think this is a neat opportunity in a lot of ways,” said Johnson. “To represent your country is a big deal and to be proud to play for the United States, but it goes a lot further than that.

“We represent our country and our family, but I also represent the University of Iowa as both a player and coach. I think it’s a neat thing for not just me, but for my family, for the current players and coaches and alumni of this university.

“I relish the opportunity to represent that many people and to be able to go out there and put it all out on the field and see what happens.”