Senior Johnson takes final shot at ASU for Gymcats

By Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, January 21, 2005

To Katie Johnson, this is it.

Tonight's dual meet against ASU marks the last shot the senior will have at her in-state rival as a member of the Arizona gymnastics team.

For Johnson, whose Gymcats have not defeated the Sun Devils in a dual meet since she joined the team, only a win will suffice.

"I really want to beat them," she says. "This would be a good rising point in our year if we can beat ASU."

Arizona opens Pacific 10 Conference play tonight against the No. 7 Sun Devils at McKale Center at 7:30.

The Gymcats (5-3, 0-0) saved themselves from a losing record entering conference play with three close wins last weekend thanks in good part to Johnson.

Taking home two of the teams' four individual titles on the day, she lifted Arizona to victories over Illinois-Chicago, Missouri and No. 11 Michigan State.

Johnson scored a 9.9 in the floor exercise as the last performer in the competition's final event to help the team leapfrog the Spartans in the standings.

"I think she had an outstanding impact," says senior Monica Bisordi. "She does only compete in three events, but it's obvious that we need her on all three events."

Johnson says she felt calm in the moments leading to her floor routine with a win in her hands.

"Just since I've been little, that's been kind of my forte," she says. "It's definitely my favorite event to compete (in) and show off to the crowd and everything."

Johnson has done plenty to impress in her time at Arizona. Born with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, Johnson has secured thirteen floor titles in just over three seasons.

"She certainly leads the team by example," says head coach Bill Ryden. "She's an incredibly hard worker. She's definitely a boost."

For a period, it seemed that Johnson, who had her spine surgically corrected when she was 15 and still holds two metal rods in her back, would be unable to boost much of anything. She says she keeps her distance from the parallel bars, for fear of undue injury.

"If you see people, they fall right on their stomach," she says. "If I was to fall, like crooked or something, it could really hurt."

Not that her teammates wouldn't admire the effort. Pushing limits, Bisordi says, is how the team succeeds.

"Every day in practice, we have that goal in mind," she says. "We want to be better every time we're out on the floor."

Keeping the status quo in the Pac-10 is a must, Ryden says, as the conference consistently boasts many of the nation's top teams.

"Every Pac-10 school will be ranked in the top 25," he says. "It's just an incredibly strong conference in gymnastics."

Even so, Ryden is confident about how the team will perform. Its success, he says, will start from the top, down, starting with the seniors.

"They have the experience," he says. "There's no competition setting that they haven't seen.

"Certainly, they can lead just by example, in terms of knowing what to expect, not being fazed by having TV cameras shoved in their face, whatever," he says. "It certainly can be a calming force, and it takes a lot of pressure off other individuals on the team."

Bisordi says the many ranked teams Arizona will face in its conference schedule, including No. 18 Washington, No. 13 Oregon State and No. 2 UCLA, come of no surprise.

"Being seniors, the six of us, we know how hard the Pac-10 is, ASU being one of them," she says.

"Rankings don't matter at this point, but they are a very strong team, and, of course, they're our rivals," she says. "So we want to go out on Friday night and beat them."

Don't be shocked if Johnson has another hand in the outcome. In February, she became only the third Arizona gymnast to score a perfect 10 on the floor. She met up with ASU a week later and scored a near-perfect 9.975.

Coming off a season-changing performance, Johnson wants to rise to the challenge again.