April 22, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Shanice Johnson is within .27 seconds of the Marshall 200 meters track and field record outdoors. She already owns the indoor mark, set back in February.
However, the freshman from Franklin Square, N.Y., wants more than one record. Johnson wants more than one event, too, now that she’s been convinced by Thundering Herd coaches that she can perhaps be the next multi-event MU star.
So, Johnson is headed where Herd senior Vanessa Jules has gone before … to the heptathlon, with its 100 hurdles, 200, 800, shotput, javelin, high jump and long jump.
“I’m already practicing as a ‘multi,’ and right now, they’re working me into it so I get full effect being a multi next year and after that, so I’ll be better at it right off,” Johnson said. “Instead of just starting me off in those as a sophomore, by doing this now, I should be better at it and expected to know how to do it.”
How Johnson arrived on the doorstep of multi was sort of by accident. Let Herd assistant coach Willie Johnson, who coaches Herd sprinters and jumpers, tell the story:
“We have never actually measured her vertical leap, but we do a lot of explosive drills at practice, whether it be with medicine balls or hopping over hurdles,” Johnson said. “So one day after doing hurdle hops, I asked her to jump over the high jump bar that was set at 5-2.
“She jumped so high that I could not believe it. Unfortunately, she was scared of the high jump bar, so she didn't go over. During spring break she practiced hurdle drills, and things have just taken off from there.”
Johnson, a two-event sprint champion at Valley Stream North High on Long Island, was ranked 11th nationally as a senior in the 100 meters. She was recruited as a sprinter “so it really took me by surprise when the coaches said I was going to be a multi, too,” she said.
"When I recruited Shanice, it was because she was a complete sprinter,” said Johnson, the Herd sprints coach. “Someone who was fast enough to run the short sprints, but strong enough to run the longer sprints.
"During her time here she has just worked hard at everything I have asked her to do, and now I believe she can follow in the footsteps of Elaine (Derricott) and Vanessa, and become the next great multi event athlete at Marshall.
“Shanice has a ways to go to reach her full potential, but she is off to a great start. She’s one of the more versatile athletes. She currently has the second fastest 100-meter time, third fastest 200, second fastest 400 and the fastest 800 on the team.”
The experimenting continued Saturday at the Heart of the Bluegrass Classic in Lexington, Ky. Johnson didn’t run her usual sprints. She competed in the long jump, high jump, 800, and 100 hurdles.
The soon-to-be 19-year-old Johnson admits she is a bit intimidated with the challenge, but said it fits her personality.
“It is intimidating, because I haven’t done any of it before,” Johnson said. “So, I’m not as good as I could be, and everyone else who is a multi on the team is taking steps forward. I feel like I’m learning it, but then a few seconds later I’m forgetting something, so it’s like I’m improving on one part, but then messing up another.
“I am a person who’s willing to try things … adventuresome. It’s funny, at the beginning of the year, the coaches asked us to write down six facts about teammates and a lot of them wrote that I’m a little Energizer bunny and I’m always up on my feet ready to do something, still happy, laughing after training.
“I feel like I am a go-getter type of person, so this is something I can do and I feel like I’m able to do, and I understand why the coaches put me in this position.”
Johnson never did field events before heading to Marshall, which was the only school she visited in recruiting – although she received several more offers after winning at the New York state championship meet.
She played basketball, volleyball and ran track and cross country. Johnson said her best events are the “200 and 400, because I’m more of a long sprinter than I am a short sprinter, have more endurance, and my starts are my weakness.”
Asked about her progress in field event workouts, Johnson smiled.
“Shotput … It’s horrible, horrible,” she said. “I thought I was strong enough until I did shotput. I haven’t done them all yet. High jump, I just need to go do it and not be afraid of hitting down the bar.
“I feel like right now, I’m just not in my areas yet. It’s not ‘me’ yet, and I’m trying to learn it all in a short period of time, so I’m kind of, like, timid on some of it.”
Marshall Coach Jeff Small said Johnson has plenty of time to master the multis.
“She jumped higher than (2012 NCAA high jump qualifier) Vanessa and Crystal (Walker, the Herd’s long jump record holder),” Small said. “And then I think she’s got really good range, can run the 200 and 800.
“We know how good Vanessa is. Shanice has run .3 seconds faster in the 200 and three seconds faster than Vanessa in the 800, over her seven events. Now, Shanice can’t high jump 5-11 like Vanessa, but still, it’s like, ‘Wow, we’ve got our next great multi-eventer here.
“Right now, she’s running 200, both relays and she’s just high jumped last three meets. She’s learning to hurdle, learning to long jump and to throw a javelin. Matt (Pfleger, throw coach) says her javelin is coming along for someone who has never thrown it before.
“And when you’re as fast as Shanice, you’ve got to figure if she just runs and picks up her feet, she’ll be able to land pretty far away … I think she’s going to be able to qualify for (USATF) junior nationals in mid-June at Drake.”
Johnson said Jules, the Herd senior and record holder in several events, has become her mentor.
“Vanessa helps me a lot; I really look up to her,” Johnson said. “Every mistake she makes, I catch onto, so I say to her, ‘Do it perfect so I can mock it.’ When she sees I’m getting mad or frustrated because I hit a hurdle or didn’t jump as high as I’m supposed to, Vanessa just calms me down and says, ‘Do this. As soon as your foot hits the floor, pop up.’
“The coaches kept dropping hints, calling me ‘a little Vanessa Jules.’ I thought it was because she’s so well-rounded and could do just about anything and maybe they saw me as the same. I didn’t know I was really going to be a ‘little her.’”
Johnson said she still wants the 100 and 200 Herd outdoor records, and relay marks to add to that. But the versatility has to stretch farther, too.
“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure doing this, but I’ve learned so far I’m not supposed to be afraid doing these events,” Johnson said. “Because the more scared I am, then mentally I’m not where I’m supposed to be.
“So if I’m happy every day, trying to be teachable and learn every event like I should. Then I’m helping myself because I’m taking in more. I want the coaches to know I can do multis and still bounce back and do my events and be great in them. I want those records, too.”