As a young child, Tatiana Johnson had the perfect body frame for a figure skater.
“Super skinny and tiny,” Johnson’s mother, Silvia, said.
And the Urbana junior certainly took skating quite seriously from age 3 through eighth grade, sandwiching two practices around her school days and taking long car rides to compete in high-level events.
For Tatiana, as Silvia put it, volleyball was “kind of a side sport.”
But Tatiana suddenly grew out of the typical figure skater’s mold, sprouting 6 inches during her seventh- and eighth-grade school years. More importantly, a certain level of emotional growth increased her interest in that “side sport.”
“I just started really enjoying volleyball,” said Tatiana, who on Monday verbally committed to play volleyball on scholarship at the University of South Florida. “I just liked having the team with me, and I just loved the team aspect and how close the team was and how competitive it is.”
Tatiana called the decision to shelve figure skating before entering high school difficult, but it was a necessary course of action. She just didn’t have enough hours in a day.
Before she enrolled at Urbana, Tatiana’s schedule on school days was as follows: wake up at 4 a.m., attend an early-morning figure skating practice, go to school, jump into Silvia’s car, wolf down some dinner, rush off to another figure skating practice, travel to Washington D.C. for a volleyball practice and return home at around 11 p.m.
However, sticking with volleyball certainly paid dividends as the 5-foot-8 Johnson developed into one of the area’s most talented setters.
She battled through an appendectomy her freshman season in 2018 but still played a key role in the Hawks’ 6-2 system as Urbana advanced to the Class 4A state final before falling to Northwest. Last season, Johnson earned first-team All-County honors, averaging 2.98 kills, 6.83 assists and 2.74 digs per set for a Hawks team that won a Central Maryland Conference title and finished 16-1.
Since June 15 — the first day coaches can make contact with high school juniors — somewhere between 20 and 30 volleyball programs reached out to Johnson, expressing interest in adding her to their respective teams.
Johnson was drawn to the vision of Jolene Shepardson, who took over as South Florida’s head coach following the Bulls’ 7-23 season in 2019.
During a nine-year coaching career, Shepardson has shown she can accelerate growth in struggling programs. Taking over a Cal State Bakersfield program that went winless in 2010, Sheperdson guided the Roadrunners to a 21-win season and a second-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference three years later. Sheperdson then moved on to San Jose State, which hadn’t finished above .500 in any season since 2001. Under Sheperdson, the Spartans posted back-to-back winning seasons in 2017 and 2018.
“Coach Jolene, she had been to other schools and really flipped those programs around and their culture,” Johnson said. “I was able to talk to some of the team [members], and they all loved the coaches, and they loved the atmosphere, and they have a vision for me, and I really liked that.”
Johnson hasn’t decided on a major, but she has plenty of time to think about her options. She didn’t necessarily set a goal of nailing down a college choice during her junior year but is nonetheless content with taking a big item off her to-do list.
“I’m really excited about it,” she said.