ALHS grad surprises even himself with success at college level

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 20, 2002

Erik Johnson describes himself as a non-athlete. Or at least he used to.

&uot;I was bad at baseball. I was bad at basketball,&uot; he said.

Then he tried swimming.

Email newsletter signup

Nobody can say he’s bad at that.

Johnson had a truly remarkable sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, earning Division III All-American recognition in three events.

He has to admit he’s come a long way since his mom first suggested he try swimming when he was a fifth or sixth-grader.

&uot;Yeah,&uot; he said. &uot;I can actually do a sport.&uot;

Actually, he excels.

Johnson finished fourth nationally in the 50-yard freestyle with what he admits is a time that astonished even him &045; 20.77 seconds. He placed seventh in the 200 freestyle in 1:40.86, setting a new school record, and was seventh in the 100 freestyle in 45.79, missing the school record by 1/100ths of a second.

&uot;I didn’t think it was possible,&uot; said Johnson.

So how did he do it? You get the idea Johnson isn’t completely sure. He’s just glad he did.

&uot;With swimming, good technique is key,&uot; he said. &uot;But height and strength are important. I ain’t the strongest guy. I ain’t the tallest guy.&uot;

A 2000 ALHS graduate, Johnson has grown since his senior year in high school, from about 5-feet-9, 150 pounds to around 5-11, 160. That has helped, he said, but not as much as his college coach, Al Boelk, who was one reason Johnson turned down scholarship money from UW-Milwaukee and the University of South Dakota in favor of Stevens Point.

&uot;He swam at the U of M, so he knows everything their coach knows, and he swam the same events as I do,&uot; said Johnson. &uot;He really knows how to make me the best I can be.&uot;

Johnson also credited his high school coach, Jon Schmitz, for helping him refine the fundamentals.

&uot;He was exactly what I needed in high school,&uot; said Johnson. &uot;He’s a great technician, and he got my stroke as close to perfect as it could be.&uot;

Schmitz is not surprised by Johnson’s success in college.

&uot;I knew he was going to be a college coach’s dream,&uot; said Schmitz. &uot;He’s probably the most technically superior swimmer we’ve had. He had a lot of success in high school, and he’s just built on that. There was no doubt he was going to be a success in college.&uot;

Johnson was a five-year letterwinner at ALHS, as a freshman earning all-conference honors and competing on a relay that reached the state meet.

As in college, Johnson came into his own as a sophomore at ALHS, winning Big Nine championships in the 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and a member of the 200 medley relay. He also earned all-state honors with the relay.

Johnson became dominant as a junior, when he won conference and section titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle and medley relay, which set a new section record. He also broke the school record in the 100 freestyle and earned all-state recognition as an individual.

As a senior, Johnson again swept the sprints in the conference and section meets and placed in four events at state, including medals in three. He was second in the state in the 100 freestyle and third in the 50 freestyle while the medley relay placed third and the 200 freestyle relay took ninth.

&uot;After those two third places, I didn’t think I would be able to break the ‘Johnson curse,’&uot; he said.

And exactly what was that?

&uot;My dad (Craig) placed third at state in wrestling in 1972,&uot; said Johnson, whose father went on to wrestle on scholarship at the University of Minnesota.

Johnson said his freshman swimming season at Stevens Point was less than spectacular. He improved his times in the 100 and 200 freestyle from high school but was actually slower in the 50.

By the end of last season, he was voted a team captain by his teammates as well as the squad’s MVP award. He turned down the latter.

&uot;I gave it up because I thought somebody else was more deserving,&uot; said Johnson. &uot;My idea of an MVP is not who scores the most but who does the most for the team by bringing everyone together.&uot;

This summer, Johnson is staying busy working six days a week at Albert Lea RV and Marine. He’ll return to Stevens Point Aug. 24, thankful he’ll be living in a house after two years in a dorm.

His goals for swimming are simply to stay the course.

&uot;I’d be fine going with the times I’ve been getting,&uot; he said. &uot;Except for the 200, I’ve far exceeded times I could have ever foreseen.&uot;