TRUSSVILLE, Ala. — Karen Johns still has some jet lag after returning home Tuesday from South Africa, but she doesn't mind.
Johns, who is Trussville City Schools' athletics director, is also the head coach of the USA Junior Women's Softball team, which brought home the gold medal in this month's world championship games, which are held every two years.
The team defeated Japan 4-1 in the final on Dec. 17 on a grand slam by Cheyenne Tarango, avenging the team's only loss, which came to Japan in the tournament's second round. The USA team finished the tournament with a record of 10-1.
"It was fun for me to watch them experience winning gold medals, which is a tradition for the USA program," Johns said. "To watch them come together as a team and stay together, go out and get the job done was rewarding as a coach."
Team USA has played in all six previous championship games for the junior women's title, winning four. This was America's second consecutive title.
The USA junior women's team is composed of women 19 and younger, the prelude to the team that competes internationally in the Olympics. The team is made up of three college sophomores, 13 freshmen and one high school senior, representing seven states and 11 universities. Two years ago, Johns led the team to a Pan American championship in Bogota, Colombia.
A native of New Jersey, Johns was previously an assistant at Alabama and coached Virginia and Florida's softball teams. She is married to former Alabama All-American defensive back Bobby Johns. She moved to Trussville last year to be closer to her mother-in-law, then the athletic director's position came open. She has been the USA coach for two years, and has been with the program since her days as a player in 1989.
Johns said the team left for Cape Town on Nov. 30 and practiced from Dec. 2 through 6. The USA had a warm-up practice game against Australia and played seven pool games, winning all of them.
There were challenges; the team lost its starting shortstop and first baseman due to injuries, Johns said.
"It basically changed our whole infield, so we shifted to a new group that had to get acclimated to each other," she said. "They are all exceptional players with exceptional skill levels, so this was a little different team, with a different makeup."
In the medal round, Japan handled the USA 9-0 in a five-inning game, sending them to the bronze medal game against Chinese Taipei, facing elimination. The USA won 12-3, setting up the rematch against Japan.
Lauren Haeger, the team's pitcher and a freshman at the University of Florida, allowed only five hits to the Japanese, striking out eight.
"We felt pretty confident going out there the second time, even though Japan really put it to us the first time," Johns said. "We didn't show them our best pitchers in that first round. We knew we had the talent. We rolled the dice a little bit with Lauren, but when she started the game and got two pop-ups and a strikeout, we knew she had her stuff."
With the gold, Johns said she is ready to retire from USA softball. While Johns said she enjoys the accomplishment, she's ready to say goodbye to the travel and long periods away from home.
"It's nice to go out on top with a great group of kids," she said. "This was one of the best groups we have ever been around."