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Karen Johns Journal

Karen Johns

September 5

What an amazing day! To beat two great teams, Australia and Japan, is a credit to the incredible will and talent that is on this team. I will start with Cat (Osterman)...she raised the level of her game during this tournament. She was mentally and physically sharp for 14 innings. (Jessica) Mendoza and (Crystl) Bustos created one of the greatest moments in my softball career by going back-to-back off (Yukiko) Euno. I think for all of you softball junkies, you have to appreciate how hard it is to beat Euno. She is the best pitcher that the U.S. has ever had to face and to see how our team kept making adjustments, working hard to be patient and wait for their pitch, staying away from Euno's deadly change-up, it was simply great stuff. Jessica's home run was a laser shot that just cleared the right field fence. It was an absolute bullet. Bustos hit her home run in typical Bustos fashion, long and high. It was a bomb!

We enjoyed our win until about 3 a.m. sitting around talking and laughing and looking back on all of the frustrations we experienced with being in China, frustrations with each other, and boy did we laugh. Our hostess, Maggie, she cried at the post game, saying how unforgettable this time in her life has been. There is so much good in this world and so many special people. If we could only find a way to bottle this magic that athletics creates and send it around the world, we would all be living in a better place.

One more sleep and then my 19-hour journey back to Cville begins!!! I think I told all of you about the Skype and Ivisit and both have been a blessing for the Johns family. I highly recommend it to all of you who travel and have to be a part from their loved ones. I love you Kaci and Daddy Johns!!!

I miss everthing about home, clean air to breath, a soft bed to sleep on, fabric softener, Italian food and a glass of ice cold milk!

It's been long, but it's been a great opportunity. I miss my Dad right now, because he would have loved to have been a part of this. I love you Pop, and thanks for making that ball go foul today against Australia! We Sanchelli's have a way of making lights go out and balls go foul, right JoiseGuy!

Bye for now.

September 4

It has been an incredible two days. Finishing out pool play against South Africa and remaining undefeated was great. Although we dominated the South Africa team, I was impressed with the spirit in which they approached the game and how serious they are taking it. They have come to several of our warm-ups to watch how we do things and coach (Candrea) has allowed them to video tape so they can take it back and implement some of it. We are hoping that the passion for the game will be everywhere in the world!

Australia was a bit of madness through the first three innings and then things seemed to settle down. It was such a significant game in so many ways. We scored two runs in the bottom of the second with (Crystl) Bustos busting out with a leadoff double and then (Stacey) Nuveman just hitting a towering home run to right center. We seemed to be in charge when the Aussies shoved us right back by scoring two in the next frame. We had a good old-fashioned fist fight on our hands and we answered the call. Cat (Osterman) might have pitched the best game of her career. She faced a ton of adversity today, not having her best stuff and still managing to dig down deep and win the game. You know you have arrived as a pitcher when you can do that. For those of you who have pitched or even had to catch in game like that, you know how that is. She came up big for us and this young Texas Longhorn is something special.

(Jessica) Mendoza was once again breath taking. I don't know how else to describe her. She hit a Reggie Jackson blast to right field to regain the lead for us then ends the game on a blast to left center on a change-up. Her work ethic has impressed me this whole summer and it is no coincidence that she is having success. She has earned it.

Next is Japan. Let me describe how I feel right now. Do you know when you go to a college football game and you have seats in the cheap section, about 100 rows up and you look up to see where your seats are and you think, ok, not so bad. However, as you are climbing the steepness of each stair increases and you are almost hitting your nose with your knee to reach up to the next stair? Well, that is were we are at. We have climbed a huge mountain and we are almost to the top, but the journey is at its toughest point and Japan is our next huge step. (Yukiko) Euno is looking sharper and tougher as she heals from her early summer injury. Their defense has been stellar in this tournament. You have to love this stuff!

Ok, three more sleeps and it is home, sweet, home. The pollution has cleared off some today. We had pretty strong winds yesterday and it seemed to help clear the air.

I miss you all. Bye for now.

I heard last night that the London organizing committee still has a last chance to add softball to the Olympic Games in 2012. They have the ability to add three more venues to their program, so, you never know ... If I could win the Virginia lottery (tough since I don't play) I would follow my godfather's advice and make them offer they couldn't refuse!!! Just thought I would share that with all of you softball lovers!

August 31

A great day for us at the ball field. (Stacey) Nuveman hit two bombs and (Monica) Abbott earned her first win in World Championship play for the USA Women's National Team. Monica is one of the few softball athletes that can say they played in both Junior World Championships and Women's World Championships. Way to go, MO! (Jennie) Finch continues to get the off the wall question from the media here, "Jennie, you are my idol, but you get no hits today and you are slow on the bases, please explain." No kidding, this is what they say to her. Jennie is an amazing person. She handles it with grace. I, however, wanted to jump up on my Italian soap box and say, "Lady, the women gave birth just four months ago, do you have any idea how awesome it is that she is playing right now." Boy, I'm glad that I'm old and calm, otherwise....

New Zealand has Gina Weber coaching with them. Gina was one of the best pitchers in the world in her day. We faced her in the 1990 World Championships in Normal, Illinois. She was very good, but our strong US squad, led my Becky Duffin, Debbie Doom, Kathy Arndsen, Lisa Longacre and the young puppy, 19-year old Lisa Fernandez held on to beat the New Zealand team in the finals.

Our team enjoyed the rest of the day relaxing and preparing for our big challenge tomorrow night, CHINA! It should be pretty intense.

The smoke and pollution are taking its toll on many. Our coughing is increasing and we are trying to spend little time out doors other than for the games and scouting. The number of smokers in China is out of site. EVERYONE smokes here. There are no laws in regards to smoking, so everywhere you go you can smell it! YIKES!

We celebrated Coach (Mike) Candrea's birthday on Tuesday. He turned 49, again! Tina had a coconut ice cream cake made at Baskin Robins and braved the 30-minute cab ride to pick it up for him.

Ok, I have to share with all of you this really cool website. It is free to download on you computer and you can call and talk to anyone for free. PC to PC and if you have an eyeball, you can see each other. Coach Carie (Dever-Boaz) is getting Kaci Michelle set up today so that I can call and talk with her and see her. I think we both have had enough, and it's time for some serious mommy and Kaci time! All you Moms out there, you know what I mean.

OK, time for bed for me. I will write after the game tomorrow night and let you know how it goes.

PS - Carie and Brandon (Duncan), thanks for everything. Carie, I saw Linda Wells tonight (Head Coach of the Greek team) and she sends her best. We also were able to visit with Margo Yonker (2000 Olympic Assistant Coach). She is helping the Netherlands in their efforts to build their program. It was nice to touch base with folks from home.

PS 2 - You will never believe what I saw tonight. As I was returning to the hotel, there was a Chinese man getting into a cab with a University of Alabama Crimson Tide t-shirt on!!! I did my best ROLL TIDE for him and he grinded from ear to ear!!! Bobby, Brandon and Murph, THEY ARE EVERYWHERE!

If you want to see photos of us over in China, go to USA and log on to photo album.

Bye for now!

August 30

Greetings to everyone. We won again this afternoon, beating the Great Britain team, 7-0. Our performances have been steady; we are getting really great pitching and some timely hitting from (Jessica) Mendoza, (Laura) Berg and (Natasha) Watley. They have been great.

Coach (Mike) Candrea has to answer some pretty strange questions from the media today. One reporter asked him why we only be Great Britain 7-0 and China beat them 10-0? Then when Jennie (Finch) beat Korea, a female reporter said to Jennie, "You are my hero, my idol. But you disappoint me when you give up a hit and not a no-hitter. Please explain to me why this happened?"

No joke, the real deal people. This is what they ask them. It is absolute madness!

I heard I caused a big stir back in the states with my post about the Chinese players who have been approved to attend college and play softball in the USA. Let me clarify my letting all of you know that. If you could be here and understand the conditions and elements that exist, sharing the news that these girls will be allowed to travel to attend college, and get an opportunity that very few of the peers ever have. It is a golden opportunity for those young ladies. This information came directly from their coach and he was proud to say that this opportunity was made available.

Ok, now that the International incident has been explained, let me get back to the good stuff. We had dinner last night at TGI Friday's!! It was great. There was a Baskin Robins around the corner, and it looked tempting, but I was afraid that my body would go into shock! I must say, that watermelon and peanut butter have been the staple of my diet. I wish my stomach had the courage to try more things, but coaching, scouting and preparing reports demands that I stay healthy and I can't afford to be sick.

Little Ace (Daigle) is doing so well. He is sooo adorable and has been so good.

We were able to visit with some fellow Americans, Larry Brushette from Mizuno (a UVA softball sponsor!), and Lacy Lee Baker and her daughter Nikki from Starkville, Mississippi, are here supporting the great game of softball.

We have had some cultural clashes while here. We are adjusting to the fact that there is no personal space here in China. When people want your attention they are in your face! Once again, in the spirit of pleasing us, they sometimes can be overwhelming.

We are finished preparing for New Zealand. We will play them 10:30 p.m. your time on the east coast. They have a tough pitcher in Aly Arnold (University of Iowa), so we will have to have our best to beat them. As the days move on and the tournament grows deeper, the target on USA grows bigger and bigger. We have done a wonderful job sticking to the game plan, and our players have executed so well.

I miss everything about home. The clean air, the comfortable beds, the great Italian food, ice cream, ESPN and all of the college football previews.

My fellow Wahoo softballers, I miss you all. I am so proud to hear how hard you are working in my absence and just remember, "Not never tonight"

All of my Wahoo friends going to the Kenny Chesney concert tonight, I am jealous. I wish I could be there. Kaci Michelle is taking her Aunt Donna for her birthday, so it should be fun. Happy Birthday Big Sis!

Despite how homesick I feel, I have a piece of gold that I am waiting to pick up, and I will be home after that. I will write more after the China game. Until then, bye for now.

August 27

What a spectacular first day. We beat Italy 6-1 and Cat (Osterman) was tough, striking out 14 and giving up one unearned run. We played well and we came up with some timely hitting, but our best game is still ahead of us. It is 11:30 p.m. and we just finished working on the scouting report for Korea. We play them tomorrow at noon. The game was filled with some terrific highlights, starting with Caitlin's (Lowe) diving catch in shallow right field (all of that with less than 24 hours on the ground in Beijing), to Laura Berg's slide into first base, beating out an infield hit. (Jessica) Mendoza was tough at the plate, as was (Jennie) Finch, (Crystl) Bustos and (Stacey) Nuveman. Mendoza even dazzled us with her short game, beating out a lead off bunt and then eventually scoring our last run of the night. The Italians were scrappy and feisty, but Cat was too strong for them to muster any real threat.

The opening ceremonies were the best of any world championships I have attended. The young children danced to a variety of music and just for a moment it made me wish Kaci could be there to see it. All of the little girls were of her age group and they were magnificent. Kudos to the people of Beijing!

It was a very hot day but the pollution was down the last couple of days and that has made it more enjoyable.

The most surreal moment of the day was watching the droves of people marching into and out of the stadium for each game. Each section of the stands were color coordinated with greens, yellows, reds, blues and whites. It must have been a very well, thought out plan to have that many people transported in and out of the stadium all day long. I wondered if attending was by choice or by obligation, but I think either way, they were delighted with the level of play. The host team China played remarkably in front of its home crowd. This is a very proud culture and I admire and respect the level of discpline they display in all that they do. I was told by the China head coach that they have agreed to allow three players to go and play in the United States and attend college. Hmmm, what a better place than UVA!!! You never know, maybe Thomas Jefferson would be appealing. Either way, I told him I have to return to the states to take my recruiting certification test so any recruiting is off limits to me right now! I thought you would have been proud, Steve (Flippen).

I had Pizza Hut Cheese Pizza tonight. I thought I had died and gone to Pizza Heaven!!! It was SOOO good! Needless to say, I am getting smaller while I am here, but that is not a bad thing at all.

I miss everyone at home, our UVA softball team and especially Kaci and Bobby. 11 more sleeps Kaci Michelle and Mommy will be home!!!

I need to say hello to my Mom! I love you and I miss you. Dad would have loved the atmosphere here today. Something tells me he was here today, especially for the Italy game!

I hope you are all having as good a Sunday as we have had! Until next time. Bye for now!

August 25

We are down to our final and last practice before our mission begins. Italy is 24 hours away. We had the best practice today, by far the strongest since we have been here. I spent most of the practice session catching for (Monica) Abbott and (Jamie) Southern. Abbott was throwing absolute gas today and hyper-extended my middle finger on my left hand. Watch out whoever she will throw against, this Tennessee Vol is ready to go. I would be short changing you if I did not tell you how funny it was when she was warming up her rise balls. She sent the second one onto the freeway, hitting a cargo truck and bouncing back to the side of the road where a man was sitting and he carried the ball back to us. The people of China are so wonderful. Very proud of serving each person that is here to visit. We feel very safe here and hope that feeling continues throughout the competition.

We started an international buzz when we arrived at the practice field with our masks on. We are wearing the masks to prevent us from breathing in the carbon monoxide that is very thick in the air here. We have probably offended the host city by wearing our masks, but it truly does help in our ability to breathe and train properly. The scientific data shows that you cannot build up an immunity to the poor air quality. The trick is to minimize it as much as possible. Coach (Mike) Candrea thinks we are all a little crazy by wearing the masks, but many of us did and hopefully will reap the benefits of having done so.

We took a 30-minute cab drive (an adventure all by itself!) to dine at Outback tonight. Although the food all appeared legitimate, I didn't venture far from the blooming onion and the jacket potato. Coach (Scott) Whitlock, Polly, Tanya, Ronnie and Coach (Chuck) D'Arcy all had steak and came home feeling great. With Nita, Coach D'Arcy's wife here, Coach D was limited to a medium steak as opposed the extra rare he normally enjoys!

I will write some more after the Italy game and will also be able to send you some pictures of the great venue and of the air pollution too! Tanya, our video coordinator has been capturing some good pictures on her digital camera and will help me pass those along to you on Sunday.

Bye for now.

August 24

Greeting From Beijing!

We have just finished our third day here in Beijing. Practice was very difficult today due to the high pollution level. The bad thing for us is that the softball venue is located in the most polluted section of Beijing. Several athletes are feeling some ill effects. The carbon monoxide level is very high today and you can feel the burning on the back of our throats. We were fitted for masks today and will wear those anytime we are outdoors. The masks cannot be worn during competition, but we can wear them at practices and when we go out to shop or eat. There is very little chance to get away from the dirty air here due to the high number of people who smoke. We have filtered hotel rooms so I remain in my room as much as possible. The heavy pollution is caused by dust, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone. The dust comes from the heavy construction that is taking place here in Beijing and the Gobi desert. 30 tons of dust is dropped on the city of Beijing every spring from the desert winds. Fortunately these dust storms come in the spring so we should be ok when we return in 2008. With all that being said, the carbon monoxide is what is affecting our athletes the most.

On a much brighter note, the people of China are wonderful. They are so accommodating and very friendly. Our guide Maggie is fantastic. She attends the college and has to take a two hour bus ride to meet us each morning. It is mandatory for her to return to the University each night. I offered my other bed for her to stay but that is forbidden. The hotel some of us are staying at is very nice. The Suyuan Jinjiang Hotel is located about 30 minutes from the softball venue.

On that note, the softball venue in Beijing is incredible. It very well may be the best I have ever seen. It is located next door to the soccer venue so it will be fun to traveling the same path of our wonderful women's soccer team in 2008. I will try to have some pictures sent back this week to share with you all so you can see just how magnificent the venue is. Security is tight. We have to go through a check point just like the airports when we arrive at the venue and the bus is inspected thoroughly. We feel very safe when we are at the field and that is nice.

Our most unusual experience took place on Tuesday when we went to the Chinese silk market. It was a mad house, people grabbing us and begging us to bargain with them for their merchandise. Natasha (Watley), Tairia (Flowers), Stacey (Nuveman), Tina (Boutelle), and Coach Whitlock did some damage and really worked some great deals. Coach Whitlock (Kennesaw State University) was in his element and even managed to work a deal for a Coca-Cola Rolex for Coach (Chuck) D'Arcy. It was a once in a lifetime experience!

Despite all of our hurdles, we have managed to have some great practices and we are anxious to get started on Sunday (3:30 a.m. your time on the east coast) afternoon against Italy.

We all miss home, especially our families (I love you Kaci Michelle), our beds and our FOOD! But our job is to bring back the gold and that we are remaining focused on. I will write more tomorrow. Bye for now.


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