HOLLAND, Mich. -- Senior Kia Johnson, a 5-foot-2 defensive specialist for St. Thomas (Minn.), has a mantra that she lives by: “Work hard in all you do and success will find you."

A senior biology major with minors in chemistry and Spanish, Johnson carries a grade-point average of 3.96 and will now carry home a national championship trophy from the DIII volleyball finals after the Tommies defeated Calvin.

Johnson is deciding between enrolling in graduate school or applying for a Fulbright scholarship.

Johnson was awarded the Elite 89 Award for sporting the highest grade-point average among the players on the eight teams that advanced to the quarterfinals. The award is presented at each of the NCAA's 89 national championship tournaments.

“It is definitely a struggle, balancing volleyball and academics,” said Johnson, who played basketball as well as volleyball as a freshman. “Something's got to give, but for me sports brings a lot of structure. Volleyball gives me a break from studies.”

Johnson had two digs and an assist on Saturday as the Tommies rallied from a 2-0 deficit to claim the national championship.

“School and volleyball are very different things, but volleyball is like a class in itself,” she said. “First you have to learn the material before you can use it. You need experience. You have to learn the material and then you apply it.

“Since I could walk, I always wanted to be around balls,” Johnson said. “Sports was everything I knew.”

Johnson is the youngest of four children in her family. She has two older brothers and a sister.

“This is something that I have dedicated so much time and effort to,” she said. “I'm a national champion and I can't believe it. I cried my eyes out as soon as I received my trophy.”