One of 17 All-America Scholar-Athletes from UNO in the 2022-2023 academic year, softball player Jaelle Johnson’s hard work gives results on and off the field. Johnson was part of a softball team with a collective 3.699 GPA, placing in the top 10 among Division I teams. UNO softball coach Mike Heard understands the importance of academics, as well as the difficulty that comes with balancing college-level work with college-level sports.
Johnson is personally forced to miss practice on a weekly basis as a result of her academic schedule. Johnson lamented the fact that she had no other options this semester.
“The coaches know that school comes first,” said Johnson. “I want to be practicing, I want to be there for my team.”
For Johnson, it’s all about time management. Johnson knows academic success is something that can be worked at and improved upon, just like on-field play.
“I’ve definitely gotten better at it,” said Johnson. “But then again, each year comes with its own challenges.”
As Johnson enters some of the most difficult academic undertakings in her UNO career, she realizes what needs to be done in order to continue her academic success.
“This semester in particular I’m missing the most practice I’ve ever missed,” said Johnson. “I’m going to have to hunker down.”
Johnson is technically in the midst of her offseason, but the softball team is still playing games every week. Even though they are just exhibition games, it isn’t until early October that the team goes down to just eight hours a week. This semblance of an offseason continues until the conclusion of winter break, after which time they will begin practicing multiple hours every day on top of their workouts. By mid-February, the team is traveling Thursday through Sunday every single weekend.
With on-field opportunities dwindling for the time being, Johnson is still taking on a leadership role for the Mavs in her senior season.
“I haven’t really had a consistent starting spot all four years, which has been tough for me,” said Johnson. “But, I’ve learned that you can lead through other ways. I just want to be there for my teammates, no matter what the season brings.”
Johnson has contributed to the team during her first three years, despite not having a consistent starting spot in the lineup.
“I started getting serious about softball a lot later than a lot of other girls,” said Johnson. “I wasn’t on a select team until the middle of high school.”
Once Johnson knew she had a chance to play softball at a higher level, she started to buckle down and focus on her goal.
“Once I knew that there was a possibility of me being able to go D-I, I wanted to do it no matter what,” said Johnson.
Johnson has not had much of a chance to prove herself on the field as she only recorded 17 at-bats for the Mavericks in 2023. With some notable senior departures, Johnson looks to take on a leadership role in the upcoming year.
Johnson was a part of softball program history for the Mavericks, as the 2023 UNO team clinched its first berth in a D-I NCAA tournament. Not only did they make their first appearance in the tournament, but they were the first Omaha team to win the Summit League in the Division I era. This was also the first conference title Omaha took home since 2011 when they won the MIAA.
Johnson and the Mavericks look to make another appearance at the NCAA tournament to improve upon their 1-2 record from last year’s tournament. With returning ace and UNO strikeout record holder, Kamryn Meyer, anything is possible for the Mavericks in 2024.