Nov. 9, 2015

As told to Megan Valley (’19) & Russell Dorn, Athletics Communications Assistant DirectorNatalie Johnson is a sophomore defensive specialist from Pasadena, California. The one-year monogram winner and 2014 ACC Academic Honor Roll selection is second on the team in service aces (21) and third in digs (213) and digs per set (2.17) in 2015.

Q: You’re from Pasadena, California. How do you like “real” winter?
A: I love it so far. We don’t get a lot of snow in California, obviously, and none where I’m from. So last year I really enjoyed the snow because it was so different from when I got home. I was the only one on my team jumping through the snow and running outside, enjoying it. Everyone else was pretty miserable, but I liked it a lot.

Q: Have you been to the Rose Parade?
A: I’ve gone every year for as long as I can remember. We go the night before out in the street and look at the floats and watch them, but we also wake up at 7 a.m. to go sit on the curb and watch all the floats and all the bands go by Orange Grove Avenue. Three years ago, we camped out overnight because it was a little warmer. It was probably 60s, which is really warm here in South Bend, but a little cold for people from Pasadena. But we actually got on the front page of the LA Times for camping out, so that was awesome. I think when I was in Girl Scouts I helped build a float, but anyone can go by and volunteer to help with a float, so it’s cool to be a part of that.

Q: What’s your family like?
A: I have a twin brother that goes to Vanderbilt – he’s an engineer there. It’s been really cool growing up with him just because it’s something everyone is always like “oh my gosh, are you telepathic” and maybe, sometimes we are. I have him, a younger sister who’s a senior in high school and a brother who’s a sophomore in high school. We’ve grown up really close and it’s been really fun to have a big family you can mess around with and have a good time with. It’s been really tough being away from them all year.

Q: Was it weird being away from your twin brother for that first weekend?
A: It was. We went to different high schools and our teachers always separated us in the classroom, just so it’d be an easier separation when we went off to college, I guess. It was definitely a weird transition just to leave my whole family behind and, for once, to be actually independent and on my own and not with them.

Q: What’s something no one would know about you?
A: My house back in Pasadena has actually been in a couple of commercials – a Special K commercial and a Nissan Sentra commercial – which was really cool. I came home one time and my entire yard was covered in snow because they were filming a Home Depot commercial. But yeah, people will walk up to your house and say “this is a cool front yard, we’d love to use it for a commercial, can we come by tomorrow?” And they come and you can watch all the actors if you’re quiet. It’s cool to be a part of a neighborhood where you can see a lot of the houses on TV. It’s such a weird feeling, but it’s pretty cool.

Q: What Disney princess are you most like?
A: Probably Ariel, because I love the ocean and I would live at the beach if I could.

Q: What are your preferred pizza toppings?
A: I like to stick with a traditional cheese pizza, unless I’m at this local pizza place in town that combines pesto, chicken, red peppers, garlic and arugula.

Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: As of now, my favorite movie is Inside Out. It was the last movie I saw in theatres and I really enjoyed that one.

Q: If you were an animal, which would you be?
A: My favorite animal is a baby pig. So I would be a micro pig or a yellow lab, because I have one and I love her.

Q: What’s one thing you couldn’t live without?
A: Volleyball. I couldn’t live without volleyball. I’ve been doing it since I can remember and I was always playing. It’s probably something I can’t live without as of now.

Q: Who’s your favorite professor?
A: My favorite professor is my management professor, Professor Stevens. He just does a great job of really entertaining us in the classroom and making us want to come to class, even though it’s at 8 a.m. on a Monday.

Q: You had an injury in high school. How did it feel when you finally recovered?
A: I tore my ACL January of my senior year – it was the third practice of my club season. It was initially just a terrible feeling to have something taken away from me that was, essentially, my entire life at the time and what would be my entire future. Not knowing if I would still be able to play at Notre Dame and not knowing anything about the recovery process was tough. It was a long journey back, going to practice every day when I couldn’t even move or walk two steps without limping. I had to work everyday with rehab to be able to step on the court at Notre Dame again. I was lucky to be here eight months post-surgery and playing in my first collegiate match, almost fully healed – I still had to wear a big hunky brace to help me out. It was a really good season for me just because I got to do something I love, which I wasn’t able to do in the previous eight months. I gained a really big appreciation for the sport that maybe you can’t when you’re healthy. It puts everything into perspective for you and makes you appreciate the little things that you didn’t realize you could miss out on. My first match, midway through the season, without my brace was really liberating for me, just to be, in a sense, fully free of injury and to be able to let it go and play the game I love, the way I love it.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about your team?
A: My teammates and our work ethic. It’s a great group of girls who will do anything for each other, on and off the court. It’s just cool to form that bond of trust and dedication.

Q: What is your favorite thing about Notre Dame besides playing volleyball?
A: It’s really about the people that you meet here and the experiences you make, because we’re at a school with so much tradition and so much history behind it that it’s just an awesome experience to be able to be a part of that. It’s awesome to meet people that really care just as much as you do about the school and love to make great memories here. It’s an experience that I think will last me a lifetime.

Individual match tickets for Notre Dame volleyball are on sale throughout the remainder of the season. Visit or call the Murnane Family Ticket Office at 574-631-7356 for more information.

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