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No track, no problem for Class 2A Italy’s Kortnei Johnson, now at LSU

LSU sprinter Kortnei Johnson scorched the Myers Stadium track on Friday like it was home sweet home.

In a sense, it almost is.

The University of Texas’ track was practically a home track for the Lady Tigers’ sophomore when she was in high school. That’s because, well, Italy High School didn’t have a track.

“We just ran on grass and sometimes cement,” Johnson said Friday after her productive preliminary races at the Texas Relays. “All of our meets were away meets.”

Consequently, the majority of Johnson’s most cherished track memories have occurred in Austin, which is about 150 miles south of Italy, a town of about 1,800. In fact, the medals she won at the Class 2A state high school championships at Myers — seven of them gold — hang from a wall in her apartment in Baton Rouge.

“People always wonder why I have those medals up there,” she said. “I tell them those are how I got to LSU. Those are where my success came from.”

Johnson added two more entries Friday to her Myers memory bank.

She ran the second leg on LSU’s 400-meter relay that posted the event’s fastest preliminary time of 43.25 seconds. Then she came back to set a personal best in the 100 with a wind-legal time of 11.13 that obliterated her previous legal best of 11.27 set last year as a freshman.

As impressive as those times are, they won’t supplant the top memories Johnson has of this track. Those came at the state meet her senior year when she posted what were then her career bests in the 100 (11.26) and 200 (23.39), both aided by significant tailwinds.

“After that, I just fell on the track,” she said. “I was in tears, but I was so excited.”

Despite all her memories in the Texas capital, Johnson elected to travel east across the state line and sign with the Lady Tigers, a perennial national collegiate power. She said she had offers from many elite programs including Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oregon, USC and Kansas.

But Johnson said she always had a fascination with LSU, which intensified after she became serious about track at the age of 15.

“I always wanted to go there since I was a little girl,” she said. “When I started running, I found how exactly how good they are, and all the tradition they have. I just felt at home when I visited there.”

The LSU coaches couldn’t say the same when they made a recruiting trip to see Johnson in Italy. Coach Dennis Shaver said he was aware of the school’s lack of a track, but …

“It doesn’t really register until you see it with your own eyes,” he said.

Despite Johnson’s lack of training facilities in her hometown, Shaver said she arrived in college with a good grasp of technical fundamentals.

“The big thing was just doing a lot of acceleration work,” he said. “She needed training on coming out of the blocks.”

Johnson’s obviously learning, and Friday’s showing indicates she’s on the verge of moving into a new plateau of her development. But she won’t forget her unique past and doesn’t want to.

“It’s very strange,” she said. “When I have these conversations with people about where I came from, they really can’t relate. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, how did you do it?’

“I wasn’t going to let up just because I didn’t have a track. I wanted to get somewhere. I wanted to be able to tell a story about where I came from and how I am where I am today.”

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