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Interview with LSU Volleyball Head Coach Tonya Johnson on Upcoming Season

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

With the LSU Volleyball team recently reporting for camp , the upcoming scrimmage this weekend and the looming season Head Coach Tonya Johnson took some time do an interview with me and discuss where the program is and what is on the horizon.

With Coach Johnson being a 4 year letter winner at LSU as a player from 1987-1990 and being a part of the 1990 Final Four squad, I asked the 2nd year head coach how has it been coming back as the head coach here at LSU. She replied with " It's, it's been incredible. This is my dream job and this is kind of full circle for me where I got my

start at and this is where I'm going to end my career. This is gonna be my last stop so, it's incredible to be back at LSU and to represent the purple and gold and to coach in front of my family and friends and to be a part of something really special here." She added "I was then as a player and as an assistant and now as a head coach. It's been fun, it's been exciting, we're just excited to be here and to be home."

Coach Johnson has been a part of a lot of winning Volleyball both as a player at LSU and as an associate head coach and recruiter at The University of Texas where the Longhorns have dominated and were a perennial NCAA team and mainstay in the Final Four. That led me to ask her if she sees any similarities in her current team and the teams she played on and coached with her response being "I will say this about last year's team and this year's team is, a lot of gutsy performances and, and more importantly, just a lot

of belief in themselves and, what we had to do to get ourselves in the tournament and win in the first round. A lot of first for a bunch of these young ladies on the team, just like, I had a lot of first as a player here going to the first final four and all of those things. And so, you know, we're trying to create a culture here where where winning's everything, it's not the end all be all, but it's, everything, you know. And trying to get them to understand

that winning is fun and being competitive is fun. I think just in terms of those similarities, I think we can find a lot of things that compared to that during my plan days, I look at what, Jerritt Elliott's done at Texas and how he built that program and being around him when he built that program, I understand what it takes to build a successful program and to become a powerhouse in the volleyball community. And so those are our goals. That's what we're striving to do every day."

Coach Johnson took over this team and immediately had them in NCAA tournament play for the first time since 2017 and won their opening round game for the first time since 2014.Being a 2nd year coach at LSU and the recent successes of the 2nd year coach's Jay Johnson and Kim Mulkey culminating their 2nd years with National Championships, I jokingly asked if she felt the pressure and she commented " the only pressure I feel is the pressure that I put on myself. I think just in terms of what coach Mulkey and coach

Johnson have been able to do in their second year, it's just outstanding. It's

incredible. What a great time to be a part of LSU athletics. And while I absolutely would love to go to the final four and compete for a national championship my second year. Absolutely. And who knows how the chips may fall. But what I will tell you, is that, you know, with the core group that we have coming back and some of the newbies

that we have that are coming in, I think we are in line for a special season and so we'll just have to wait and see where that season goes. I'm not gonna put the the horse before the cart just yet. I'm gonna reserve that judgment for later and see how we develop."

On some of the newbies coming in I asked her what it meant for her and the program to keep the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the year and a two-time state champion, AC Froehlich home to play for LSU and she stated " I think AC is an incredible player. I think she is going to help us do great things here at LSU. She's got a great volleyball frame, she's got a great arm, she understands the game. I think she is going to be a tremendous asset to our program. We're excited to have her here, her hard work and work ethic. She's blue collar she wants to be great and she wants to be great fast .As coaches, we understand the process and trying to get her to understand the process that, it's gonna come she's got to work at it. It's not gonna be overnight, but she's a kid that's willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen for herself."

We discussed the 3 incoming transfers and I quickly turned the attention to Jade Demps the big time transfer from the Wisconsin Badgers program that she was part of a recent national championship with. Coach Johnson commented "Jade's experience speaks for itself, She has experienced it so she can talk about it. She's lived it,and she can share her experiences with our team in terms of what it is, what it means to win consistently and win at a high level consistency to win a national championship and how that felt and, and to me that speaks volumes for our program, to have somebody of her caliber who has that experience in our gym and can relay those messages to our team every day in terms of what it takes and what it looks like because she's lived it and she's done it. And we're excited to have her experience here. She got here back in January and she's already made a tremendous impact on our program."

We discussed the other two transfers coming in. While Emily Mitter out of Campbell and Erin Carmichael out of Jacksonville State come from smaller schools they had a lot of success and were huge parts of their teams success. Here is what Coach Johnson had to say on these two ladies "they both come from winning programs. They both come from programs that had great success last year, won in their conference tournaments and going to the NCAA tournament. That experience and then being fifth year seniors

and the experience that they bring is gonna be valuable to our team. You know, we have six freshmen and to have that experience and bring that experience is gonna be huge for us. They are two incredible young ladies who bring a wealth of volleyball knowledge to our team. But more importantly, they come from places where they've won, they know how to win and that's important."

Another player that stood out to me was the talented freshman setter Mika Rome from Ra'anana, Israel that was the Captain for the Israeli U17, U19 AND u21 teams.. I asked coach how they found this gem " it was actually a Jill (Wilson) discovery, someone that Jill discovered at her previous school. Someone she just kept in touch with as she moved on. So we were able to establish a really good relationship with her. We have some good sources that were able to give us some good information about her and also a ton of video. We're excited to see what she can add to the program as well."

As for the two 2023 Pre-Season All SEC Team selections Sanaa Dotson and Anita Anwusi coach Johnson gave glowing remarks stating "just in terms of their experience and how they carried us last year from an offensive standpoint and Anita from a defensive standpoint. The experience that they got under their belt this past season was huge and I'm hoping that carries over and the improvement throughout the spring and the summer.

That we're gonna see that and see that consistently from the both of them. I'm just excited to have them both back. Obviously,they're both fifth year seniors. I think those two want to leave a legacy here at LSU that they were a part of something special." She added "Anita got the opportunity to spend some time with USA volleyball this summer. That was an incredible experience for her, just in terms of her confidence, and what she can bring to this team every day. So I'm excited for both of them and I hope that they both have incredible years."

When I asked Coach Johnson what went into the decision to start off with a double-header against a perennial volleyball power UCLA she lightheartedly joked " Well, just, no, that wasn't planned. We weren't able to get another team to come to this tournament. So, the head coach at UCLA and I made the decision to play back to back nights. And are we opening up with the bang? Absolutely. We will be challenged right off the bat. All I can hope is that our team responds and that we're, we're ready to come out and compete on that night. It's gonna be an incredible experience in terms of opening night and playing our first match of the season, but also playing quality opponents

such as UCLA who, as you said, they're one of the powerhouses of volleyball and they have been for a long time. I'm excited about that opportunity and I think our team is as well."

The LSU volleyball team is scheduled to play six televised SEC matches during the 2023 season announced by the league office Thursday afternoon. Overall, the SEC Network’s volleyball schedule will showcase nearly three dozen matches in the 2023 season. Matchups will be televised weekly on SEC Network on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, with conference play starting on Wednesday, Sept. 20. Of the six TV slots for LSU, five will air on SEC Network and one will be on ESPNU. Four broadcasts will be hosted by LSU in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC) in Baton Rouge, La.



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