Abby Johnson’s storybook volleyball summer adventure had a happy ending when she agreed to attend the University of Nebraska as a preferred walk-on beginning in the 2020 season.
One of the top middle blockers in southern Illinois, the 6-foot-4 Central High School senior had offers from the University of Houston and Arkansas State among others but after impressing the Cornhuskers staff at a pair of summer camps, then getting an offer from coach John Cook, the decision was easy.
“It wasn’t a tough decision at all. It was actually pretty easy,’’ Johnson said with a smile. “Nebraska is one of those teams I’ve grown up watching on TV and I’ve always dreamed about going there.”
Johnson, who resides in Aviston, will be joining one of the elite programs in the nation.
The Cornhuskers won the NCAA Division I championship in both 2015 and 2017 and have five national championships in all. Nebraska has also been the national runner-up four times, including a year ago when it lost to Stanford 3-2 in the title match.
Entering her third season in the starting lineup at Central High School in Breese, Johnson’s emergence as a future NCAA Division I player has been aided by several coaches and teams. including longtime club coach Andre Irizarry, who has trained and worked with her for the past four years, as well as her high school coach Chris Toennies.
Johnson finished the 2018 season with 296 kills, 109 blocks and 50 service aces.
Toennies said Johnson’s success has come through hard work.
“I knew she had the capability to play Division I volleyball,” said Toennies. “Now, Nebraska Division I ... that’s only 12 athletes a year. Abby has such great qualities as an athlete. Looking back over these last four years., she had a goal, made a plan to get there and she achieved it.’’
A member of the St. Louis-based H2 Sports Worldwide Volleyball Club, Johnson first showed up on Nebraska volleyball’s radar when club coach Geoff Davis sent a recruiting video to a Cornhuskers assistant.
She liked what she saw. from the athletic Johnson.
“They asked if I could come to their camp,’’ Johnson said. “Well, I went to the camp and was chosen as the most outstanding player.’’
Johnson was then invited to the Cornhuskers Dream Team Camp where she won the award for being the top attacker.
“It was at the end of the team camp that they told me that they liked me a lot and wanted to see where it goes,’’ Johnson said. “From there we just kind of talked. They said they would like to come out for a home visit and so one of their other assistants came out. We went out to dinner and discussed what my future would be with them. The next day I got a call from the head coach, John Cook and that’s when I verbally committed.
“It all kind of stemmed from a three-minute recruiting video — kinda neat.”
The oldest of Avey and Erica Johnson’s three children, Abby plans to major in pre-med at Nebraska.
“I remember I asked Abby what she wanted and she said she loved the sport and that she wanted to go big,” said her dad, Avey Johnson. “In college volleyball, it doesn’t get any bigger than Nebraska. She has worked so very hard and, as her parents, we couldn’t be any more proud.”