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Athlete To Watch: Whitney Johnson
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  04/14/2005
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

April 14, 2005

by Andrea Winter

When deciding which college to attend after high school, break-through freshman pole vaulter Whitney Johnson said she envisioned a "fairytale story" where she would walk on to the campus and know immediately that she could see herself there. The University of New Mexico is her fairytale.

"After visiting here and talking with the coaches, I knew that there was something special here and I could feel that this was going to be the right place," Johnson said.

The 19-year-old Mission Viejo, Calif. native said that her transition from California to New Mexico was an easy one, partly because of monthly visits home, and because of her teammates and coaches.

"My coaches put absolutely no pressure on me, I put all the pressure on myself because I wanted to be the standout freshman that could balance everything and perform when it counted," said Johnson.

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"I want to be a leader, but I know that it is not the right time right now. If I keep vaulting well then I'll have the status to be that leader next year. I'll be a force to be reckoned with."
-Whitney Johnson
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An outstanding competitor at Mission Viejo High School, Johnson said that she knew her ticket to a college education was through college sports, and she jumped at the chance to make an immediate impact at UNM.

"I did well in high school, but when I came here and my top mark in high school was average here, I knew that I had to work even harder, and I already see myself making strides to get where I want to be," Johnson said.

"My motivation comes from wanting to be the freshman that makes her mark this year and comes back to kick butt next year," said an enthusiastic Johnson. "I vault for myself, not for anyone else, but it's nice to have teammates and coaches that push me and support me when I'm out there."

Pole vault and decathlon coach Scott Steffan said Johnson is doing very well and that it is fun to watch. "She is a fiery competitor and if she can equal what she did in high school or better, than that's all we can ask for," Steffan said.

The youngest female pole-vaulter on the team, Johnson said that vaulting well helped her gain the respect of her teammates as a freshman.

"I want to be a leader but I know that it is not the right time right now, but if I keep vaulting well then I'll have the status to be that leader next year," said Johnson. "I'll be a force to be reckoned with."

She credits her teammates, including junior pole-vaulter Derek Mackel and sophomore Robert Caldwell, as pushing her to succeed, yet keeping her in line.

"I thought it was so cool when the Daily Lobo called me the `female counterpart' of Derek Mackel because we both have the same work ethic and push each other, and it's just really great working with all those guys," Johnson said.

"I know that this program is just taking off and is going to be so successful in the coming years," Johnson said.

Johnson competes Saturday in the Mt. SAC relays in front of her friends and family and says she feels confident going into the meet. "I am really pumped about this meet. I know the turf, I know the run, so I'm just really excited to compete," Johnson said.

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