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Kaila Johanson emerges as Niles West’s go-to hitter

For the young Niles West girls volleyball team, having an outside hitter nicknamed “Fearless Kaila” makes the upcoming postseason a lot less daunting.

On a varsity team with six seniors, sophomore hitter Kaila Johanson has emerged as a consistent force on the right side. Now, as the Wolves look forward to the postseason in their new sectional, coach Stacy Metoyer needs Johanson to continue playing beyond her years.

“When we need a kill we’ll go to Kaila,” Metoyer said. “Kaila has to be on.”

The 2014 graduation of standout hitter Olivia Rusek forced a serious change in the Wolves’ offensive strategy. Instead of constantly setting Rusek, the team is spreading the ball around. Still, the ball seems to be set for Johanson most often.

Johanson earned all-tournament honors at the Northside invite last weekend after smashing 46 kills and blocking four balls. Although the Wolves took third place, they beat rival Niles North for the second time this season. Other good performances came from left-side Dominique Krason, who had 25 kills and 12 aces, and Eleni Balourdos, who did most of the setting and chalked up 92 assists.

Johanson first showed her tenacity last year as a freshman when Metoyer put her in the Class 4A regional final against Niles North.

“Our outside was getting blocked, we threw her in, she got up there and got the game-winning kill,” Metoyer said. “So she’s kind of a fearless player.”

Johanson plays volleyball year round with her club team, Energy Volleyball. It’s not enough for her to just be good, she said — she wants to be great, and wants to continue to play in college.

“I just want to be the best I can be in volleyball,” Johanson said. “I try my best and play my hardest. If you want to be the best you have to go out there and act like it.”

Her club volleyball coach, Mike Supocy, said he expects her to continue playing in college, although it remains to be seen at which level. Several universities have already expressed interest. Johanson said she’s aiming for a Division I school, but at 5-8 she fears she may not be tall enough. Nonetheless, Supocy said that besides her great mechanics and jumping ability, her fierce attitude is one of the things that sets her apart.

“She’s almost like a two-face when she gets on the court, because she’s smiling all the time, but when she goes and hits she can rail the ball around 50 miles an hour.”

Brackets for this year’s Class 4A Maine East Sectional will be released October 10, and with the revamped conglomeration of teams, Metoyer may have to do some research into the Wolves’ new opponents. Johanson said her team will have to play with courage, and when asked how she felt her team would fare in the postseason, she was blunt.

“We’re going to be unstoppable,” she said. “I think we have the potential for it.”