Hayley Wickenheiser, Ryan Getzlaf, Gordie Howe - what do these athletes have in common? While all are hockey players, they're also inductees in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. In September, Nathan Johnson will be a part of that coveted list. 

The former Estevan Comprehensive School principal was a part of the 2003-2004 Huskies Men's Volleyball Team for the University of Saskatchewan, donning the jersey number 15. The team was a force to be reckoned with, boasting a 21-6 record for the season and winning the national championship title against University of Alberta in a nail-biting finish. 

"Very, very proud of getting that call into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. That's that's a big deal. Given what we went through and how it ended there, I think [the team] is very deserving; but very proud to be part of that group with this discussion," shared Johnson. 

The road to that championship win was not easy. Johnson said that they only lost a couple of games against University of Manitoba in the first half of the season. However, after some injuries heading into the Christmas break that year, the team needed some help. 

"We had a couple of veteran guys come back at that time and really solidified our roster. Joel Ens and Brandon Needham joined our team at Christmas time. They had been playing in the past, but I think that sort of put us over the top, really increased our confidence. We went into a tournament that we hosted with University of Laval and the University of Alberta and UCLA. We ended up winning that tournament and just sort of rolled through that second half." 

At this point, it was now time for the team to put up or shut up. After coming back from the winter break, the Huskies only posted six losses for the rest of the season. Heading into the playoffs, it was clear they found a rival in the University of Manitoba Bisons. Fortunately for the Huskies, the Bisons were knocked out of the semi-finals by Alberta. With the gold medal round matchup now set, the Huskies now had to prove themselves against their western neighbour. 

"We got up 2-0 in that national final and then they beat us and set 3 and 4 and it came down to the fifth set. We were up 14-10 in the 5th, only going to 15 and they got a run going. [We] ended up tying it up 14-14 before we won it at 16-14, so super close. As close as you can get and just a great way to end. There was four of us that were done that year. We were all fifth years that didn't have any eligibility left, so it's a great way to end it," Johnson recalled. 

Right after the win, Johnson said he couldn't touch that trophy fast enough. 

"It was being able to have that trophy after such a close game. It was right to the bitter end before we knew we were going to be the national champions. It was pretty amazing feeling."

He shared that he had a short run with volleyball as an athlete after the championship win - even playing in Denmark at one point. Johnson soon found his passion in teaching. He spent about 16 years coaching high school and club volleyball teams. He admitted that he's taken a step back in the last few years, focusing more on his kids' busy sports schedule. Johnson found himself even coaching his daughter with the sport. 

That championship run was 20 years ago. These days, he's the superintendent of human resources at Southeast Cornerstone Public School Division. Since then, he's been around athletes both as a competitor and a coach in various sports. His advice to anyone is to embrace sports and being an athlete. 

"I think there's so many benefits of sport and you know all these things that you gain from being a part of a team. Just the advice to just be to enjoy it and get involved as much as you can. I'm a play-everything guy and I always thought that volleyball was just another thing that I also participated in and just had a great time with all the activities I was involved with. That would be my encouragement for everybody just to really enjoy their time in sport." 

The 2024 Induction Dinner & Ceremony will be held at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina on Saturday, September 28.