TERRE HAUTE —
As a senior at Lawrence North High School three years ago, 6-foot-2 Felisha Johnson averaged 15.9 points per game and earned selection to the Indiana All-Stars girls basketball team.
Johnson made a few basketball-related trips to Terre Haute in her younger days, but little did she know that she would make a name for herself nationally from our fine city.
You see, Johnson has given up basketball, although some fans might say she could help coach Teri Moren and the current ISU women’s squad with her inside presence.
These days, however, Johnson is focusing her attention on heaving heavy objects for the ISU women’s track and field team.
And she’s doing a good job of it.
After redshirting in 2009 and enjoying a reasonably successful 2010, Johnson set the school record in the women’s 20-pound weight throw (74 feet, 21⁄2 inches Feb. 5 in the DePauw Tiger Invitational at Greencastle) and leaped to the No. 2 ranking in the nation as a sophomore this winter.
“She’s really good now,” ISU throws coach Adam Judge emphasized during practice Wednesday at the ISU Arena. “She’s one of the top throwers in the country. She’s one of the top throwers in the world, actually. She’s made big strides since last year. She opened up [the indoor season] with an 8-foot PR [personal record]… Developmentally, she’s real young. She’s got a lot of technical work she can still fix.”
“Felisha is a tremendous athlete,” ISU women’s track coach Angie Martin said. “She’s really come a long way in the indoor weight throw. Coach Judge has done a phenomenal job with her. She just comes to practice and works really hard. She works really, really hard in the weightroom… It’ll be fun to see where the rest of the season takes her.”
Johnson will get a big test Saturday (weight throw) and Sunday (shot put) when she competes in the 2011 State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships on the campus of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Asked what a reasonable goal would be for Johnson in the weight thr ow this weekend, Judge replied “77 [feet]” while Johnson was saying 74 at the same time. Despite her modesty, Judge nodded his head up and down to indicate that his prediction is attainable.
“I just want to do well, get points for the team mostly, because our goal as a whole is to win conference as a team,” Johnson told me, “and winning [individually] wouldn’t hurt.”
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on her,” Martin said on that subject. “She’s been throwing really well in meets when she’s been confident in herself and relaxed. That’s our goal for the week — for her to be that way in the meet — and hopefully things will kinda take care of themselves.”
Martin said the MVC is very deep in the women’s weight throw. “We have four of the top nine in the nation,” the Sycamores’ coach noted.
One of the Valley’s other top performers in that event is ISU senior Kelsey Hanley, whose 2010 best throw of 68-91⁄4 ranks second in school history. Hanley’s best this year is 66-81⁄2.
Johnson also does well in the indoor shot put, although she’s not quite as dominant. Her best heave of 50 feet, 93⁄4 inches ranks No. 2 on ISU’s all-time list, trailing the school record of 55-11⁄2 set by Terre Haute’s own Christy Barrett (now Christy Sherman) in 1991.
“She’s getting there,” Martin said of Johnson’s possible rise to Christy Barrett-Sherman status. “She makes progress every year. I mean, she’s only a sophomore, so she’s got two more years.”
“It’s pretty cool,” Johnson said of being mentioned in the same breath with the ISU legend. “She’s really nice. She always tries to help me out… Hopefully, [the school record] will happen.”
“Felisha’s pretty solid in her technique,” Judge assessed, “but she’s really fast and she’s just a very, very hard worker … very dedicated.”
In the weightroom, Johnson’s max lifts in the bench press (275 pounds), squat (450 pounds) and standing military press (225 pounds) would make most men proud. Judge said she’s flipped a 600-pound tire three times in seven seconds, describing her as “farm strong.”
“She comes in every week and watches film, a couple times a week sometimes,” Judge added. “Every throw she takes in practice is 100-percent [effort].”
Johnson credits a change in her preseason training routine as one reason for her climb up the national throwing charts.
“We did more sprinting and a lot more lifting,” she explained. “So that’s made a big difference.”
A sports management major, Johnson easily could have gone elsewhere for college, especially for basketball, in 2009. Fortunately, she chose Indiana State — for a few different reasons.
“The throwers were a nice, close group,” she said, recalling a visit to ISU she made during the 2009 high school track season. “I really liked that. The coaches were really nice too.”
Being located within 100 miles of Indianapolis also was a plus. “My parents can come see me throw for the close meets,” she mentioned.
And if she keeps working hard, maybe they can watch her compete for an NCAA championship in the not-too-distant future.
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.