By Andrew Mindeman / Director of Athletic Communications
LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Summer Johnson wanted to be a softball player.
The 5-foot-11 sophomore on the Covenant volleyball team had aspirations of becoming a Division I softball player when she was younger. A life-changing injury changed her sport, but did not change her desire to compete at the collegiate level.
Her path to Covenant was just as winding.
Growing up, Summer loved softball. She was a catcher for one of the top youth teams in the state of Georgia and wanted to follow in the footsteps of her older brothers, Jason and Kel.
Kel Johnson was a highly touted baseball player and ended up playing four seasons at Georgia Tech before finishing his collegiate career at Mercer. In high school, Kel was selected to the Team USA U17 team and helped the squad earn gold.
Her other brother, Jason, was also a college baseball player at Point University.
The success of her brothers motivated Summer to become a standout in her own right.
A devastating injury changed her path, though.
Summer calls what happened to her at age 12 an "unexpected incident."
While attending a tryout for her brother, Kel, as he chased his opportunity to play with Team USA, Summer was in the seats taking in all the action on the field. Suddenly a foul ball was lined into the seats and struck Summer in the face.
"The broken bones immediately gave my face a distorted appearance, and the puddle of blood around my feet from my nose was a gruesome sight," Summer recalled. "The stadium went completely silent. I was too in shock to know how much was wrong until I peered out of my one eye to see all the distressed faces and noticing that everyone was looking at me."
After being rushed into the ICU and sent into a medically induced coma, Summer finally woke up four days later. She had avoided needing brain surgery, but was left with a fractured skull, a broken nose, broken facial bones, and was permanently blinded in her left eye.
Soon enough Summer healed and was sent home. After being cleared to play sports again, she quickly picked up her glove and went back to the diamond to pursue softball.
But this time something was different.
"I was shocked and disappointed when I realized that catching a softball was close to impossible with no depth perception and dealing with terrible double vision," Summer said. "This is what led my parents to encourage me to give up softball and try a new sport."
Summer had to give up softball but did not give up on her passion for sports.
The next year she tried out for the volleyball team at Konos Academy, a homeschool hybrid academy she attended, and quickly fell in love with her new sport. During her time on the volleyball court, Summer developed into a highly-sought after college prospect.
With her height, Summer offers length on the front row both as a setter and at right side. Even with her damaged eyesight, Summer has learned to compensate for that and become a talented player.
"As a setter, it would be optimal to have vision from both eyes as I have to cover most of the court and see everything but the ball peripherally," Summer added. "At this point, I have learned to manage just fine with one eye and am completely confident on the court.
"I know that I am an eye behind everyone but when you cannot change it, embrace it."
PATH TO COVENANT
As she progressed through high school and developed into a talented prospect, colleges came calling -- including Covenant.
Summer attended volleyball camps at Covenant, led by head coach Joanna Ehman, and was awestruck by the beauty of the campus and the atmosphere of the Covenant program.
"I remember looking at my mom and saying, 'Why wouldn't everyone want to go here?'" recalled Summer. "I came back to Covenant to visit and tour the school a few months later. I stayed with a player in her dorm and had the time of my life. They took me to Cookout and just welcomed me right into their friend group. I had never felt so welcomed to a group of girls who I didn't even know before."
However, Summer chose to go the Division I route out of high school and went to Southern Miss. While at USM, she played in 10 matches and made two starts -- against LSU and Tulane -- in her freshman year. Her top performance of the season came at Tulane as she tallied 32 assists.
Like her injury at age 12, though, something just wasn't right and a change was needed.
"Southern Miss was a good experience overall," Summer noted. "However, there were things about the school that didn't line up with my values and I knew I would be happier somewhere else.
"When I knew for sure that I was going to transfer from USM, Covenant was the only place on my mind. People were advising me to consider any schools that were reaching out when I went into the transfer portal, but I didn't even begin to consider going anywhere but Covenant."
Summer enrolled at Covenant in the spring semester of 2020 and is fully embracing everything that Covenant volleyball has to offer.
"One thing I love about playing at Covenant is the enthusiasm. Every player wants to be on the court here. Scots volleyball feels more like a family than any team I have ever been a part of," Summer said.
She joins a Covenant team that has won USA South divisional titles in four of the last five seasons along with a pair of USA South Tournament titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances. Her ability adds to a talented roster that is ready to once again climb the ladder to the top of the conference.
"The girls create such a positive atmosphere during practice, despite the unfortunate circumstances of having a postponed season. They work hard, and like me, they want to win."
Despite a fall without a traditional season, Summer knows she has found a home in the sport of volleyball and at Covenant College.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTS
Be sure to follow the Scots all season long on athletics.covenant.edu and on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for up-to-date scores, news and other information. To receive e-newsletters, click here