Swimming: Honeymooners return to take Elk girls’ helm

Elk head coach Luke Johnson (middle) yelled encougement, flanked wife wife Liz and another assistant, Erik Opsahl. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
Elk head coach Luke Johnson (middle) yelled encougement, flanked wife wife Liz and another assistant, Erik Opsahl. (Photo by Bruce Strand)


by Bruce Strand, Sports Editor

Coaches of fall sports never plan trips for mid-August. That’s when you start building your team.

However, new Elk River-Rogers-Zimmerman girls swimming head coach Luke Johnson and his fiancee and assistant coach, Elizabeth, had set their wedding date for Aug. 10, 2013, long before they got hired by District 728 this year.

So, on Aug. 12, first day of practice, off they went on their honeymoon to the Mediterranean Sea, while 80 girls were coached for two and a half weeks by a makeshift crew of parents and alumni and a fellow teacher.

The newlyweds missed the first two meets, too, before making their Elk coaching debut on Tuesday evening at VandenBerge pool when the Elks placed second in a three-team conference meet.

“Our honeymoon was great,” reported Liz Johnson . “We spent time in seven different countries and spent 12 days on a cruise. Highlights were Venice and Pompei, Italy, as well as Mykonos, Greece. Luke especially enjoyed driving on the other side of the road in London and Dublin, where we had layovers.”

When they returned, the girls wanted to hear details about all that, before turning attention to swimming.

“They wanted to know a lot about the honeymoon and where we went, and also about our wedding,” said Luke Johnson.

The wedding was held at Minnesota Fresh Farm in East Bethel, a Johnson family farm for four generations.

Luke Johnson, who swam for the Elks (graduating in 2001), then swam and played water polo at St. John’s University, was hired in March to replace Colleen Killpatrick, longtime coach who left after getting married. He previously coached St. Cloud Apollo and a club team.

Liz Johnson, who swam for Robbinsdale Cooper, was hired as his assistant late in the summer. They have coached together for two years.

The couple attended a few captains practices and parent information night during the summer, and coached the first day of practice prior to leaving on honeymoon. Luke researched the team personal and last year’s meet results.

Last week, they were finally on board full time.

“The girls have been so great in welcoming us to the team and working hard for us,” Liz Johnson said. “The effort, respect and support we have received so far, from not only the girls but their families, has been amazing.”

Most people on honeymoons presumably aren’t thinking about much else. Asked if their thoughts strayed back to the pool in Elk River, Luke Johnson responded: “Liz may say that I thought about it too much. We were staying in touch by email, which was available on our ship. We wish we could have had live updates of the meets and Skype to stay in touch.”

It was nice to have another adventure waiting for them in their new home.

“We had a great time,” said Luke Johnson, “but were are excited to get home and back to business!”