LAND O'LAKES — Jessica Johnson has already taken the first step toward a lofty goal.
Dreaming of playing for Team USA volleyball in the 2016 Olympics, Johnson was selected to represent Florida in the USA High Performance Volleyball Championships.
As the only player from Pasco, and just one of 12 players from her age division in the state, the 13-year-old outside hitter will travel to Tucson, Ariz., hoping to win the girls select title.
The four-day tournament, which started Wednesday and runs till Sunday, will expose Johnson to some of the best coaches in the country and provide competition against the nation's top volleyball prospects.
Set to begin her freshman year at Wiregrass High School in about a month, Johnson will gain more experience from this tournament than other players receive in their entire career.
With this major accomplishment even before her high school career begins, Johnson is being regarded as one of the best Pasco has to offer.
"Probably not this year, but next year she'll start dominating the county," personal coach Doug Chinchar said.
"She's going to be really good, and for her to be included on this team, and making it in Florida is tough, it's really a tremendous accomplishment."
Starting her career four years ago, Johnson said she fell in love with volleyball because of the teamwork involved and the skill necessary to play the game.
Playing for two club teams in the area, the Tampa United Volleyball Academy and the Sandspurs Volleyball Club, she has spent the past two years playing everyday.
"Even when she's not at practice, she'll be around the house hitting a ball," her mother, Brenda Johnson, said. "She's always bringing her teammates over to practice or trying to get (the family) involved. She's really addicted to the game."
Hoping to improve her game, Jessica began playing for club teams in Hillsborough and Hernando counties (Pasco hasn't had a club team since 2003) and attending camps at almost every college in the area.
Jessica has spent her summers training with coaches from Pasco-Hernando Community College, Saint Leo University and the University of South Florida.
Along with her skill on the court, Jessica excels in the classroom, something she'll need to continue to do to reach her next goal: a scholarship from Florida, the University of Southern California or Stanford.
"There's a lot for me to do after college. I (can't) play professionally one day, since there isn't a league here — I'll have to go overseas," Jessica said.
"But I definitely want to return and have a chance to play on the (U.S.) national team in 2016. Being in the Olympics is my ultimate goal."
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