It doesn't take much to get Fort Bend Austin senior middle hitter Gabby Johnson going. All she has to do is listen to the crowd.
While Johnson loves nothing more than basking in the love and adulation reigned upon her at Bulldogs home games, she takes in just as much fuel and inspiration from hostile environments. And every road game in Fort Bend ISD's intensely competitive District 20-6A can be defined as such.
"I know this sounds cringey, but my haters motivate me," Johnson said. "Playing all these different schools, I hear people talking about me all the time, but really it's just hyping me up so I can prove you wrong on the court."
Opposing crowds are wise to try anything, and everything, to rattle a talent like Johnson, who leads the Bulldogs with 2.5 kills per set (on impressive .351 hitting and .491 kill percentages) and 36 total blocks.
Her game recently earned a ticket to the next level, as Johnson verbally committed Monday to play for Tennessee State.
"I picked TSU because I'm originally from Tennessee," Johnson said. "I have family and friends there, so I feel like that would be more than enough support since I'm going so far away from my family and friends in Texas. At first, the decision was very difficult, but once I went on the visit I fell in love with the school."
Johnson, who could also see some time as an outside hitter at Tennessee State, realized during the summer of 2019 that college volleyball was a legitimate possibility. It was an epiphany, a light at the end of the tunnel during a trying time.
"At that time, I wasn't doing good with volleyball because of other issues. My confidence went down the drain," Johnson said. "But my (Texas Tornados) club coach, Coach Janice, and my dad told me, 'You can go D1 if you put the work in. You just have to do the extra to be better.' Ever since then, my mindset was only D1 volleyball."
Johnson has once again proved herself right and doubters wrong. A natural, gifted athlete, she probably could have played DI basketball if she desired. Johnson averaged 17.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.1 blocks and three steals per game for Austin basketball last season.
Johnson spoke more with VYPE
VYPE: How would you describe the recruiting process? What was the best thing and most difficult thing about it?
JOHNSON: The recruiting process was probably the most exciting, yet stressful, thing I experienced. The best thing was looking and going on visits with all the different colleges and seeing how everyone is unique in their own way. The most difficult thing was probably making the final decision and staying on top of emailing the schools, making sure you're still top whatever on their list, and stuff like that.
VYPE: When did you start playing volleyball, and what was it about the sport that you liked?
JOHNSON: I started playing seventh-grade year, and I just love competing and having fun with my friends. I have always been a competitor, especially having three sisters in the same house, so competing and playing with some of my closest friends made me love it even more. I was able to hang out with them all the time because of practice.
VYPE: You're one of the top players in the state. How would you describe your game and why you're so successful on the court?
JOHNSON: I would describe my game as smart and aggressive. Being a middle, you have to be the queen of the court. I feel like I have pretty good court awareness, so just finding open spots and scoring zones and really just outsmarting the team while being aggressive from the sidelines telling them what's open, to being on the court playing.
VYPE: You are a natural hitter. How has placing the ball better and perfecting your swing evolved as an attacker since your freshman year?
JOHNSON: My volleyball IQ has increased a lot since freshman year. I feel like playing club and practicing with some of the best coaches improved my game a lot, and the coaches at AHS are just constantly in my ear, trying to improve my swing or telling me what's open and how to read the hitter.
VYPE: What is something people don't know about you?
JOHNSON: One thing people don't know about me is that basketball was my first sport. I played basketball since I was 4 at a community club when I lived in Tennessee, and I'm still playing to this day.
VYPE: What are your thoughts on your team's play so far?
JOHNSON: We're doing pretty good, in my opinion. We have had many ups and down, but we're pushing through it and striving to do good this second round (of district play).