Former Lady Longhorn softball star Candice Johnson has been voted Sul Ross State University’s Female Athlete of the Year.
The junior infielder batted .288 for the Lady Lobo softball team, second highest on the team, was second in hits and fielding percentage and earned American Southwest Conference All-West Division honorable mention recognition for the second consecutive year.
For Johnson, the prestigious honor was a complete surprise.
“I was not expecting it and I have to thank the coaches and players of all sports at Sul Ross for the honor,” she said.
“I was very excited to be named MVP twice during my college career and even more excited when I was named Female Athlete of the Year.”
Johnson received the honor May 3 in a university-wide awards assembly.
The PHS honors graduate won Sul Ross’s MVP honors in 2009 and 2011. In 2009 she also received the Freshman of the Year award and in 2010 was tapped for the Defensive Player of the Year citation and was a scholar athlete.
Johnson has decided not to play softball her senior year at Sul Ross because she will have the credits to graduate in December 2011 and can finish her final semester of studies on-line.
“I am sad to not play my fourth year of softball, but I am ready to start a new chapter in my life,” she said.
Johnson will soon return to Payson, she said, to “be close to family while planning my wedding next June.”
Johnson calls her softball experiences at Sul Ross “great and an eye-opener of how much more work softball is in colleges vs. high school, but it is a lot of fun — I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Among the highlights of playing on the collegiate level, she said, “was traveling and playing in different places — it was a blast.”
During her three years at the Texas school, she also has established a bond with her teammates, a “love” Johnson says, that she will cherish for a lifetime.
In addition to playing softball at the university, she was involved her first year in the school’s Freshman Leadership program and as a sophomore was selected a University Ambassador.
“”I helped with freshmen orientations, campus tours and worked in the registration offices every week,” she said. “I absolutely loved attending Sul Ross because it was a small town (Alpine, Texas) just like Payson, so it wasn’t a hard transition when I went there.”
Sul Ross has an enrollment of about 2,000 students on its 93-acre main campus near Alpine. The Texas community has a population of just 6,460 residents.
Johnson first enrolled at the school with a major in art mostly because her ambition is to become an interior designer.
However, schedule conflicts involving art and softball practices and games prompted her to switch majors.
“It was very hard to manage both (art and softball) at the same time, so I switched to a major in General Studies knowing I could take design classes,” she said.
When she obtains her bachelor’s of science degree in December, she will test for certification in interior design.
In the spring of 2008, Johnson’s senior year at PHS, she was chosen to the All-East Region first team. Her selection marked the third successive season she received the region’s highest honor.
As a sophomore in 2006, she had a season most players only dream about.
In addition to being named all-state and all-region, Johnson was chosen to the Class 3A Arizona State Tournament team after posting a .670 ERA in the three games she pitched.
During the regular season, Johnson led the team in hitting with a .473 average and had a 14-7 record as a hurler.
Her pitching and hitting helped lead the Lady Longhorns to the final four of the state tournament.
That was the closest any PHS softball team has ever come to reaching the championship game.
During the course of her career, she also was named to several all-tournament teams for both her pitching and hitting.
One of Johnson’s finest games during her PHS career might have been in the spring of 2008 in a 4-3 win over Blue Ridge.
In it, the Lady Horns rallied from behind to take a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth and then turned to Johnson, who had started on the hill, to stifle any Yellow Jacket rally.
Showing the toughness and grit of a junkyard dog, she set the Jackets down 1-2-3 to preserve the Lady Horn victory..
At the time, assistant coach Kadi Tenney called the senior hurler’s effort, “the best game I have ever seen from her.”
In seven full innings, Johnson did not give up an earned run while scattering three hits against what was then one of the better slugging teams in the East Region.
Johnson is now remembered by local fans as one of the Lady Longhorns’ finest pitchers along with Rachel Ray, Brenna Zumbro and Becky Larkins.
In the summer of 2009, Johnson returned to Payson to host, along with her father, former Lady Horn coach Curtis Johnson, a fast pitch softball camp for aspiring young hurlers.