Competitive fire burns bright for Quaker Valley 3-sport star Nora Johns

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Sunday, July 3, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Nora Johns is a natural.

Name the sport and she’s a natural fit.

It didn’t surprise Quaker Valley coach Jared Jones that the rising senior won WPIAL and PIAA titles during the 2022 track and field season.

“Nora is a great athlete but an even better competitor,” Jones said. “I tell her all the time that she is a baller. It doesn’t matter the sport. If there is a competition involved, Nora is all in and will do whatever it takes to do her best.”

Johns is a three-sport standout at QV in basketball, track and soccer. This spring, she broke the school record in winning the girls 300-meter hurdles event at the PIAA Class 2A track and field finals at Shippensburg.

“My expectations for the upcoming school year really just include reaching the goals I’ve made for myself and the teams I’m a part of,” Johns said. “Personally, I hate losing and of course I don’t want to lose any of the games I play or races I run. But if I improve even the slightest, I will see it as a successful year.”

Johns won the 300 hurdles at states in 44.78 seconds, edging Bedford sophomore Autumn Becker to claim her second consecutive title.

“When Nora hit the final straightaway in first place, I was extremely happy for her,” Jones said. “Near the end, (Becker) made a late push to pass her, but Nora had the strength to hold her off. I was very proud of her.”

Johns began competing in the 300 hurdles as a sophomore and won last year’s PIAA title in 45.07. She was the seeded No. 1 this year.

The multifaceted Quaker Valley athlete was a triple medalist at the state meet.

All three QV relay teams earned PIAA medals. Johns ran with the 400- and 1,600-meter teams that placed sixth and eighth.

Two freshmen, Vanessa Pickett and Kwilai Karto, sophomore Spencer Elliott and Johns teamed up in the 400, while sophomore Ellie Cain, junior Kathryn Karwoski, Johns and Karto competed in the 1,600.

The 3,200 relay team of senior Anna Cohen, sophomore Kate Hines, freshman Cecilia Montagnese and Cain corralled eighth place.

“The performance of all three relays was incredible,” Jones said. “It was so satisfying to take all three relays to states. I believe we were the only team in the WPIAL to qualify all three relays for a single gender. I told the girls on all three relays that they had a very good chance to bring home a medal. All three made it exciting.”

Johns also was a four-time WPIAL medalist this year, repeating as the 300 hurdles champion, taking fifth in the 100 hurdles and running a leg on QV’s 400 and 1,600 runner-up relay teams.

While Johns credits all her coaches for helping her develop and enhance her skills on the track, J.J. Veshio stands out above the rest.

Veshio also coaches the QV boys soccer team, regarded as one of the elite programs in the state. He had nothing but praise for the hardworking Johns.

“Nora is a very selfless individual who comes from a wonderful and caring family,” Veshio said. “She doesn’t have a shred of arrogance and simply works hard to better herself and those around her. She is a true leader by her actions and the results show by her accomplishments in track and field.

“Nora is a dedicated, year-round athlete. Having someone who is easy to work with and has high standards makes a coach’s job very enjoyable, and Nora’s work ethic ends up pushing us to work harder for her. I wish every athlete had the attitude Nora has because she is a shining example of what a high-level athlete can be without the attitude.”

The 5-foot-8 Johns is a three-year letter winner in basketball, track and soccer.

She plays in the backcourt on the girls basketball team, which advanced to the WPIAL and PIAA Class A playoffs in 2021-22.

Ken Johns, Nora’s dad, coaches QV’s girls basketball team.

“I think there are a number of reasons why Nora is a good athlete, starting with the God-given ability she is blessed with,” he said. “That combined with having an older brother and sister that both challenged her in the backyard and serve as a model for her for working hard have really contributed to the person she is in and outside of the athletic arena.

“She works really hard and cares a lot about her team and teammates. She has seen the results of her brother and sister putting in the work and now has started to see the results of that for herself. She likes to compete and has pretty high expectations of herself. Her mom is sneaky competitive, too, even though she won’t admit it. I think all of those things get combined and that fuels her a bit.”

Quaker Valley has had a winning record in girls basketball in each of the last four seasons and advanced to the WPIAL finals in 2020-21.

Johns, who has attained a 4.3 GPA, is a two-year starter for the Quakers.

“The coach part of me has expectations for the team more than individual players,” said QV’s second-year floor boss. “My hope is that we continue to grow as a team and as a program. I have expectations related to leadership for Nora and all of the seniors more than anything else. We’ve asked Nora to do a lot — handle the ball, distribute, score and most nights defend the other team’s best player. She handled that all very well.

“As a father and a fan, I have seen the work she continues to put in and I hope she has a fun and successful senior season. We talk about playing hard and having fun all the time. That’s what I hope for the most.”

Nora Johns is expected to be one of six players in a strong senior class on the QV team in 2022-23. Senior guard Maria Helkowski also is a returning starter.

“I’m hoping we will be able to build on what we did last year,” QV’s coach said. “While we are returning two starters, we are also returning a number of players who contributed a lot — particularly down the stretch. Maria took advantage of a lot more playing time and was a big contributor. Shannon Von Kaenel and Silvia Almanzar, along with Madi Chapman and Annica Kagle, all will have increased roles this year.

“We don’t really talk about winning or scoring or playing time in our house. After the craziness of the past few years with the pandemic, I hope Nora and all the seniors have a chance to play and have fun doing it.”

This summer, Nora is participating in AAU basketball and played in a basketball league with QV. She tries to get in a hurdle workout once or twice a week and currently is preparing for preseason soccer practice.

“I started to experiment with the positions last soccer season,” she said. “My original position was left outside midfield, but for the majority of the (2021) season, I played left back on defense and up top as a striker.

“My expectations this year are similar to what they have been the past three years: to win the section, make playoffs, and hopefully make it to Highmark (Stadium). It will be a little difficult having lost so many seniors, but I have faith in my class that we will work hard and lead the team to a successful season.”

The energetic Johns led the girls basketball team in points per game, assists and steals as a junior.

“I love basketball because I get to share it with my family and even some of my friends,” she said. “The ups and downs are experienced as a team, and it feels good to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

“I know there is a track ‘team’ and we did win the WPIAL title this year, but even then, you are out there running by yourself. On the court, you depend on each other and have to trust your teammates. Also, it is really fun.”

Johns is eagerly awaiting her senior year of high school.

“I have quite high expectations going into next basketball season, and I’m not sure if it’s because this will be my last year playing at QV, but I know what I want to accomplish,” she said. “I think it would take too long to list all my goals, but to sum it up, what I really want to do is form a team culture and set an example of what the girls basketball program at Quaker Valley is.

“Of course, a WPIAL title is on my list for the team, but what I really want is for our team to develop a sense of unity and be one of if not the best girls basketball program in the WPIAL.”

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