2018-19 JUNIOR VARSITY & VARSITY BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
AP names Cardinals' Townsend to all-state team
EAST LANSING – Johannesburg-Lewiston sophomore Sydney Townsend was named to the Associated Press' Division 3 all-state team as an honorable mention Tuesday.
The guard averaged 10.6 points, 4.2 steals and 3.7 assists per game, totaling 201 points and 80 steals on the year. She was also voted All-Ski Valley Conference First Team and was First Team on the Gaylord Herald Times' annual All-Area team.
The Cardinals (12-7, 10-5 SVC) finished their season with a loss to Oscoda in their district opener. The placed fourth in the final SVC standings.
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
NORTHERN MICHIGAN – Tuesday night the Ski Valley released its girls basketball all-conference team, and seven local players made that cut.
That included St. Mary's Olivea Jeffers and Megan Grusczynski and Johannesburg-Lewiston's Sydney Townsend each appearing on the first team.
Jeffers, a senior, averaged 172 points and 5.9 steals per game, totaled 313 points and 108 steals and was First Team on the Herald Times' All-Area team, while Grusczynski, a junior, averaged 10.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists. She finished with 230 points and 81 rebounds while making 37 3-pointers en route to appearing on the HT's Second Team.
Townsend, only a sophomore, averaged 10.6 points, 4.2 steals and 3.7 assists. She totaled 201 points and 80 steals and was on the HT's First Team.
The All-SVC second team featured St. Mary's Emma Cherwinski and J-L's Tara Madej, while St. Mary's Megan Loffer and J-L's Kennedy Johnson were honorable mentions.
The Snowbirds (22-3) saw their season end in the Division 4 quarterfinal Tuesday at Clare, losing 48-34 to Fowler. However, they went undefeated in conference play to repeat as Ski Valley champions. J-L (12-7) lost to Oscoda in its district opener as well as settled for fourth place in the final SVC standings.
All-Ski Valley Conference Girls Basketball Team
Olivea Jeffers, St. Mary
Megan Grusczynski, St. Mary
Keagen Fischer, Bellaire
Sydney Townsend, J-L
Kennedy Crawford, Onaway
Mara Clancy, Inland Lakes
Emma Cherwinski, St. Mary
Libby Derrer, Bellaire
Tara Madej, J-L
Calley Selke, Onaway
Finch Vanniman, Central Lake
McKenzie Szymchack, Forest Area
Bella Martinek, Bellaire
Alexis Cain, Central Lake
Kaiya, Willson, Central Lake
Taylor Larson, Onaway
Mariah Redding, Pellston
Nattie Brisson, Pellston
Teegan Griffore, Mancelona
Alli Meeder, Mancelona
Previous DelosSantos, Inland Lakes
Megan Loffer, St. Mary
Kennedy Johnson, J-L
Lauren Lange, Forest Area
Cardinals can't slow down undefeated Oscoda's 3-point shooters in D3 pre-district
OSCODA — The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team just didn't have an answer for Oscoda's 3-pointer shooters.
Sydney Townsend scored 14 points and swiped six steals, but the Cardinals lost to the host Owls 62-45 in the Division 3 pre-district Monday.
After playing a 24-17 game in the first half, undefeated Oscoda extended its leads to 49-28 in the third by burying four 3s.
"We played really well, and I'm proud of the girls," said J-L coach Heather Huff, whose team finished the season 12-7 overall. "We just couldn't stop all of their 3-point shooters, and they had several. We did a good job on their big girls down low, but you can be only so many places at once. We knew they had a few 3-point shooters, and we tried to stop them. They just came out on fire in the third."
The Cardinals actually played Oscoda to an 8-8 first quarter and outscored the Owls 17-13 in the fourth.
That third quarter just doomed them.
"The girls never quit, even when they were down by 25 points," Huff said. "They just kept pushing back, and we had a strong first quarter. The score looks like the game wasn't good, but we had them on the rocks early. They (Oscoda) were nervous in the first quarter because we were playing well, and they didn't have an answer for us."
Tara Madej made a pair of buckets before getting into foul trouble during the first period, while Townsend played well in the fourth. The sophomore used hard drives to the basket and scored eight points in the final eight minutes alone. Morgan McVannel made a key 3, and Alyce Vermilya helped in the fourth, too.
Kennedy Johnson and Vermilya finished with eight points apiece. Jersey Layman, Arielle Vermilya and Madej each scored four.
Huff was happy the Cardinals gave up just 17 turnovers. Her defense also played hard.
"Morgan started for us and was good on defense," Huff said. "She handled the press, and we had her on the top of our defense. She hustled and did a good job and didn't have too many turnovers tonight."
The Cardinals graduate Elizabeth Eaton, and Layman. The rest of their team is likely to return next season, which includes seven underclassmen and the Vermilya twins, who are juniors.
"I told the girls after the game that it sucks to lose, but I feel inspired and encouraged after this game," Huff said.
Cardinals struggle without Madej during comeback attempt at Bellaire
BELLAIRE — Despite missing a starter for most of the game, the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team almost pulled off a comeback Saturday at Bellaire.
The Cardinals (12-6, 10-5 SVC) played without Tara Madej, who was battling the flu, in the second half, and they had a tough time getting their offense rolling without their 5-foot-10 forward. They lost to the Eagles 44-35 in the regular season finale.
After trailing just 18-14 at halftime, J-L scored only six points in the third without Madej. They trailed 33-20 entering the fourth.
"I think not having her threw us off and discombobulated us without having her," coach Heather Huff said. "Our inside-outside game wasn't as effective with a piece like her missing. In the fourth quarter, we made a comeback and got it down to four points, but we just fell apart at the end."
J-L outscored Bellaire 15-11 in the fourth.
Madej didn't start the game, but she scored J-L's four points in the first. She scored four more the following quarter to end with eight points.
"She got herself together and went in after not starting," Huff said. "She had a basket and a couple of free throws for us. She played most of the second but didn't play that much in the second half."
The Cardinals were looking at a big deficit entering halftime until Holly Kussrow made a pair of baskets before the buzzer. Kussrow added a 3-pointer during their comeback attempt in the fourth, and she finished with seven points.
Sydney Townsend led with nine points, followed by Jersey Layman with five and Alyce Vermilya, Autumn Vermilya and Kennedy Johnson with two.
"We still had a problem with turnovers," Huff said. "We had girls who can step up and take that spot (Madej's) if that happens. But, again, we had too many turnovers, and that's been our downfall. We didn't handle their press well for a while. We kind of freaked out on it."
On Thursday, Johnson finished 5 of 11 from the floor and scored 11 points during J-L's 37-31 win at Central Lake.
Arielle Vermilya stepped up big, finishing with eight points, six rebounds and five steals, while Townsend scored seven.
Snowbirds' girls defeat Lady Cardinals and win 3rd-straight SVC title
GAYLORD – Tuesday was a great night for fans of the St. Mary basketball program.
Its girls squad beat rival Johannesburg-Lewiston 60-29 during the annual Rivals Rally game, relying on 20 points from Megan Gruczynski and another 19 from Olivea Jeffers.
What's more, the win clinched the Snowbirds' third-straight Ski Valley championship as well as its 50th-straight conference win dating back to 2016.
The Rivals Rally has raised over $100,000 for Otsego Memorial Hospital to help those impacted by cancer in Otsego County.
Cardinals spread the floor, earn comeback win over Bulldogs
JOHANNESBURG – It was getting pretty bad for the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team in the first half Wednesday.
If it weren't for Holly Kussrow knocking down back-to-back shots with 90 seconds left in the second quarter, the Cardinals deficit at halftime would have looked a lot worse than 15-10, and their team confidence was wearing thin.
"I told them at halftime, 'You can be frustrated all you want, but you're the ones reaching in for fouls, not rebounding, not making free throws and not hustling,'" coach Heather Huff said. "I said to them, 'That's all on us. You've got to want it.'"
The Cardinals (11-3, 9-2 SVC) wanted it in the second half.
Both Tara Madej (11 points) and Kennedy Johnson (10) scored eight points apiece in the final two quarters, leading J-L to a 35-24 victory over visiting Inland Lakes.
"We talked about spreading out the defense so we could open things up down low," Madej said. "And if it wasn't there, we could pass it out for a shot or to start over again."
In the third, the offense spread the floor and gave Madej and Johnson room to work in the post. Madej scored the opening two buckets of the half, and then Johnson cashed in on a put-back attempt to give the Cardinals a 16-15 lead with 3:14 left in the period. They never trailed again.
Their 2-3 zone defense gave up just two points in the third, relying on tipped passes, steals and rebounds to kick start a 13-2 run, which wrapped up with Sydney Townsend burying a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
J-L tacked on 12 points in the fourth to ice the win.
"It was more about mentally working with each other, working the ball into the open spots," Johnson said of the comeback. "It was definitely a different mentality in the second half. We were working harder, focusing and playing solid as a team."
Townsend finished with six points, Alyce Vermilya chipped in two and Morgan McVannel and Autumn Vermilya each made a free throw in the fourth.
"Obviously, I was irritated with the slow start, but I was pleased that we finished strong despite the slow start," Huff said. "We needed that tonight."
Cardinals edge Ironmen on road
With two players injured and another coming back from illness, the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team needed everything it had to get past Mancelona.
The Cardinals (10-3, 8-2 SVC) overcame a two-point halftime deficit to top the host Ironmen 33-30 in Ski Valley play Monday. They pulled away with an 11-point third quarter.
Tara Madej scored eight of J-L's first-half points and finished with a team-best 13.
"We pressed but got into foul trouble, and we'd get a steal but miss a layup or not draw a foul," coach Heather Huff said. "Mancelona played very well with their zone. We didn't hit our outside shots. Everything felt discombobulated."
Sydney Townsend added eight points, all coming in the second half, while Kennedy Johnson and Arielle Vermilya each scored four. Autumn Vermilya chipped in three points, and Holly Kussrow made one foul shot.
"Mancelona was a much-improved team," Huff said. "They played very well and hit shots they didn't come close to hitting last time we played them."
Sports Roundup: Both J-L squads down Warriors at home
The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team gave its full-court press the good ole college try.
But after it didn't produce too many points and kind of wore out its players, the Cardinals abandoned that and ratcheted up their half-court defense instead.
And that's all it took for them to top visiting Forest Area 51-33 in Ski Valley play Tuesday.
Tara Madej led with 15 points, Kennedy Johnson had 14 and Sydney Townsend scored 12, including making three 3-pointers.
"We started to get better rebounds, and our defense was getting more transition baskets," coach Heather Huff said. "We did our full-court D in the beginning, and it was just a lot of effort. We weren't getting a lot of results out of it.
"So we played aggressive half-court defense, and it worked better for us. They were really long and hard to defend."
J-L (8-3, 6-2 SVC) carried just a 13-8 lead into the second quarter but broke open the game before halftime.
Alyce Vermilya, Autumn Vermilya, Arielle Vermilya, Morgan McVannel and Jersey Layman each scored two points.
Cardinals almost upset rival St. Mary
JOHANNESBURG — A week ago, the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team, which sat firmly in second place in the Ski Valley standings, walked away embarrassed following its loss at Onaway.
Onaway used a full-court press that J-L just wasn’t prepared for. J-L struggled to get the ball across half court and even made errant passes trying to get beat Onaway.
So the Cardinals went back to the classroom and fixed its press break.
And through two periods Friday, its press break was getting past rival St. Mary and even turning into transition buckets from Kennedy Johnson (16 points). But the Snowbirds stayed the course and kept forcing J-L to exert energy up and down the court, trying to break that press. Finally, the Cardinals ran into a buzz saw in the third quarter, and that’s when the Snowbirds used a 16-2 run to put away the game.
Sixth-ranked St. Mary snuck away with a 59-43 win, despite J-L holding two separate leads deep into the game.
There’s no such thing as moral victories, but J-L was proud of how much it improved since losing to Onaway.
“We came from Onaway, and we (improved) leaps and bounds,” said Johnson, a freshman. “Onaway was rough. We threw the ball away, lost our heads a little bit. We’ve worked through it and came back.”
The Snowbirds skunked the Cardinals in the first quarter. Jersey Layman made a bucket down low to give J-L a quick 2-0 lead, but St. Mary followed it up with an 11-0 run.
But then Johnson gave J-L’s offense a spark. She opened the second quarter with a tough basket that drew an and-one opportunity, and then she scored in transition to trim J-L’s deficit to 13-10. After some more back and forth play, Holly Kussrow buried a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game, and then she found herself open on the backside for a quick 2-pointer that gave J-L a 17-16 lead with 1:49 left in the half.
“That was just aggressiveness,” coach Heather Huff said. “Our team motto is ‘extra effort, every time’ this year. We just keep trying to do that. They wanted it really bad tonight. A lot of it was internal, and we were really working for it.”
Added Johnson: “I just wanted to be part of the team. I knew this was a game I needed to come out and work my hardest to show the team off as best as I can. ... So we all worked together.”
Emma Cherwinski made a free throw to put St. Mary back ahead 20-19 just before halftime. But Tara Madej (16 points) made a key shot down low to put the Cardinals on top to open the second half. Aside from Sydney Townsend’s early 3 and two baskets down low from Johnson, the wheels fell off for J-L in the third, allowing the Snowbirds to go on their huge run.
“We let their press get to us again,” Huff said. “But, overall, tonight we played very well.”
Kussrow finished with five points, while Layman and Townsend scored three apiece.
The Cardinals (7-3, 5-2 SVC) were without Alyce Vermilya (injury), so they brought up their entire JV for the game.
“It helped to have a couple of guards we could put in there to give breathing breaks to girls, especially when Sydney got into foul trouble,” Huff noted. “They stepped in there and helped out.”
Huff is hoping her team can continue to improve. Especially when it comes to breaking the press.
“We worked hard on breaking that press,” she said. “Look at how we played against Onaway. When they pressed us, we lost our minds. From that to this, we’ve already improved, and our goal is to get better every time.
“We didn’t finish the whole game like that, but we played 100 times better than we played last week."
Cardinals get help from JV in win over Mancy
With short benches on both the JV and varsity, Johannesburg-Lewiston knew it would have instances where it would have to combine its two girls basketball teams into one squad for a game.
Wednesday was another one of those occurrences, as the Cardinals skipped out on having a JV because of injuries but still rolled visiting Mancelona 61-17 in varsity Ski Valley action.
The Cardinals (7-2, 5-1 SVC) received a lift from point guard Sydney Townsend, who shot 6 of 10 from the floor and finished with 14 points, eight steals and six assists, while Tara Madej pitched in 12 points and Arielle Vermilya scored 10.
Other varsity players contributing included Jersey Layman with six points, Kennedy Johnson with four and Holly Kussrow with two. The JV players were led by Autumn Vermilya with four points, followed by Morgan McVannel with three and Emma Shimel, Elizabeth Eaton and Jamie Burke with two apiece.
The Cardinals host rival St. Mary for a Ski Valley showdown Friday, Jan. 25. The Snowbirds enter the matchup ranked No. 6 in Division 4 and in first place in the conference standings, while J-L is second in the SVC.
Full-court press dooms J-L at Onaway
The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball didn't have an answer for Onaway's full-court press Thursday.
J-L fumbled a 15-13 halftime lead, allowing Onaway to take a 10-point advantage immediately in the third quarter. Onaway pulled off the 48-33 win in Ski Valley play.
"We let their press fluster us," said coach Heather Huff, whose team led by nine points in the first quarter. "They pressed us in the third, and we lost our minds."
Point guard Sydney Townsend scored 10 points but battled foul trouble and ultimately fouled out in the second half. That left J-L (6-2, 4-1 SVC) without its starter to bring up the ball vs. the press.
"If you don't have your point guard, and they full-court press you, that tends to be a problem," Huff said. "We just fell apart from there. We didn't handle ourselves."
Tara Madej finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds for J-L, which saw its four-game winning streak end. Alyce Vermilya added six points, followed by Arielle Vermilya with three and Jersey Layman and Kennedy Johnson with two apiece.
"Hopefully, we use this loss as a learning experience," Huff said. "We want to do better next time."
J-L hosts Mancelona for a conference game Wednesday, Jan. 23.
Cardinals ride team effort to blowout win at Inland Lakes
Last week, Tara Madej dominated play for the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team, en route to scoring a career-best 24 points while the Cardinals knocked off Bellaire.
This time they got a total team effort in their 61-33 win Tuesday at Inland Lakes. Sydney Townsend scored a team-high 18 points, as J-L carried a 33-17 lead into halftime.
"We got them (Inland Lakes) to turn the ball over in the first half, which allowed us to score some transition buckets," said coach Heather Huff, whose squad is 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Ski Valley, which is second in the conference standings. "We were able to work the high-low game, inside and outside. We were hitting 3-pointers and getting the ball down low."
Townsend, who scored eight points in the first eight minutes, made a pair of 3s to get the Cardinals rolling in the first quarter. Kennedy Johnson (10 points) and Madej (eight) took care of the rest in the paint.
"Kennedy had two nice buckets with some nice inside moves, and Tara did the same for a basket, too," Huff noted. "We really had the inside-outside working tonight. Everyone was working together. Everyone just stepped up and did their part and played well."
Arielle Vermilya (12 points) and Jersey Layman (six) each scored season highs, while Alyce Vermilya added seven points. Holly Kussrow was the lone Cardinal who didn't record a basket, but Huff said she was one of the best defenders on the floor.
"Arielle was looking to score tonight, and Jersey was getting to the basket better than I've ever seen her," Huff continued. "Jersey wasn't even hesitating. She just drove the ball well to the hoop tonight."
Huff also said the length of her forwards helped the Cardinals' defense tip passes and generate scoring chances.
"Our D was key because we played super aggressive with lots of intensity," Huff said. "We were reading the passes and anticipating them. We'd get a tip on the pass, make the steal and then score. Our D really bought in tonight."
Madej's career night helps Cardinals down Bellaire at home
JOHANNESBURG – Sure, the two competitive scrimmages Johannesburg-Lewiston had over the winter break allowed its girls basketball team to improve.
But what might have helped the Cardinals the most was all the downtime they had the last three weeks. The girls got to hang out with each other and even get to know one another better.
Tara Madej believes that time together really benefited the team's chemistry.
Perhaps the sophomore is right because the Cardinals were working together as a team well Thursday, relying on Madej's career-high 24 points and work in the post to beat Bellaire 43-31 in Ski Valley action.
What's more, freshman Kennedy Johnson pulled down 15 rebounds, while it seemed like anyone who posted up on the backside block in the paint was open for a close-range shot.
"We were all just working really well as a team tonight," Madej said. "We were moving the ball around, and it seemed like whoever was on the backside was always open.
"We've gotten a lot closer to each other, and we're getting used to each other on the court."
A 10-0 run to open the second half put the game away for the Cardinals, who received six points from Madej during the scoring spree. Jersey Layman also knocked down a jumper, and Arielle Vermilya had a put-back.
The Cardinals (5-1, 3-0 SVC) also had huge runs in the first and second quarters. Johnson, who plays in the post alongside Madej, scored back-to-back baskets from the right block to ignite a 10-2 jaunt in the first. Then Madej scored eight-straight points during a 9-0 run in the second, ensuring J-L a 20-16 halftime lead.
"We didn't change up anything we do offensively," J-L coach Heather Huff said. "I think it's just our bigs are working together better. They're starting to read each other more and know where each other are going to be.
"We didn't really have to force too many shots tonight because we were able to be so patient and work the ball inside."
Outside from an 8-foot jumper and three free throws, Madej did all her damage 2-4 feet from the hoop.
"She had the game of her life tonight," Huff said. "And I'm glad to see it because she's worked so hard. It's good to finally see her finish so well around the hoop."
Arielle Vermilya and Johnson scored five points apiece, followed by Sydney Townsend with four and Alyce Vermilya with three. Alyce also led the team with four steals, and Townsend had eight assists.
Bellaire made a pair of 3-pointers late and scored 10 of the final 11 points during a comeback attempt. But other than that, the Cardinals were locked-in defensively.
"We had a lot of intensity defensively tonight, and we were going after rebounds," Huff said. "They were playing at a high level and didn't settle for anything. They were smart on the boards and really were hustling hard."
J-L visits Inland Lakes for a conference game Tuesday, Jan. 15. With the confidence Madej gained from having a career night, the Cardinals are hoping she continues playing well in the post. She hopes so, too.
"This game just shows that I can play at the varsity level and that my team can trust me," Madej.
Foul shooting helps Cardinals earn comeback win over Central Lake
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston coach Heather Huff’s message was simple at halftime.
“I said to them, ‘Come on, let’s get it together. We’re just missing easy shots and not running our offense all the way through. Let’s get rid of the clutter in the middle and start opening up some shots,’” said the veteran coach, whose Cardinals trailed Central Lake 14-10 at halftime.
After a three-point first quarter, that four-point deficit might as well have been 40.
But Huff’s pep talk did the trick.
J-L (4-1, 2-0 Ski Valley) relied on some heady free-throw shooting and slowed its offense down in the second half, relying on a 17-3 run that spanned both quarters to earn a 35-29 comeback win over the Trojans in Ski Valley play.
To open the half, free throws from Kennedy Johnson (seven points), Sydney Townsend (10) and Arielle Vermilya (two) trimmed the Cardinals’ deficit to just one point. Then Tara Madej made a basket down low to make it 18-17 with 2:32 left in the third — only J-L’s second lead of the game.
One minute later, Madej buried a jumper near the foul line to turn it into a 21-17 game and make it an 11-0 run.
“On that shot, I was just playing in the moment,” the sophomore said. “I was actually looking to pass to an open teammate, but I saw the opportunity and took it.”
In the fourth, Madej, who scored a team-high 11 points, scored down low to wrap up J-L’s huge run. The Cardinals made 11 foul shots during that scoring spree, finishing 17 of 26 from the foul line as a team.
“I knew if we had it in us, we’d have to make our free throws, for sure,” Huff said. “I knew, for sure, we’d have to make our free throws to win a game like this.
“As soon as we took the lead, I knew free throws down the stretch would win us the ball game.”
Most of J-L’s trips to the line started with its offense, which would work the ball around until a driving lane showed up. During dribble-drives to the basket, Central Lake would often foul a Cardinal.
“We just needed to clean up our offense,” said Townsend, J-L’s guard. “We were playing super rushed in the first half, so we just had to slow it down. Their defense was clustered and covering the passing lanes, so they were getting hands and tips on the ball. We just had to fix that.”
Central Lake was held scoreless for the first 3:30 of the fourth.
The Trojan’s top-two players, Finch Vanniman (seven points) and Mikayla Graham, were limited all night. Alexis Cain buried a trio of open 3s because of J-L’s defensive focus on Central Lake’s stars. Kaiya Willson scored eight points.
“She was good, and she plays strong,” said Madej, who guarded Vanniman, a near 6-foot post player. “She definitely brought us some good competition.”
The Cardinals visit Forest Area for a SVC game Tuesday, Jan. 8.
There’s a good chance they’ll look to be patient on offense again.
Townsend scores 33, Cardinals down Pellston on the road
The one thing slowing down the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team has been its shooting inside the paint.
So coach Heather Huff put an emphasis on "making bunnies" in practice. That paid off Tuesday at Pellston, as the Cardinals downed the Hornets 80-33 in their Ski Valley opener.
Sydney Townsend put together a career night, finishing with 33 points, 10 steals and five rebounds.
"We finally made those puppies we've been missing all season," Huff said. "We've worked our butts off on those, so it was nice to see that happen tonight. The hard work paid off.
"It was a fun night for all of them, especially Sydney. You could just tell she was feeling it tonight. She played relaxed and was just having fun all night long."
Kennedy Johnson added 13 points, followed by Alyce Vermilya with 12, Tara Madej with nine, Arielle Vermilya with six, Jersey Layman with four and Holly Kussrow with three.
The Cardinals are 3-1 overall.
Freshman Johnson catching on early for rebuilding Cardinals
JOHANNESBURG — Kennedy Johnson is only a freshman, but she’s already got her next eight years planned out.
The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball player has been a welcome surprise to the rebuilding program. She’s already added height and athleticism to the post. She’s shown she can scoot to the rim with her dribble-drive, and coach Heather Huff loves how few players can out-jump her for a rebound.
Not bad for a girl who didn’t start playing the sport until three years ago. Now she’s hoping to do enough during her four years at J-L to catch on at the next level — specifically at one certain school.
“I want to go play college ball at Alma College, and that’s what I’m striving for,” she said last week. “I’m trying to work as hard as I possibly can to get that level.”
I just want to — 100 percent — work, work, work. That’s all I want to do. I’m trying my hardest lately because another goal I’m really striving for is getting on that 1,000-points board by my senior year.”
Through her first two games, Johnson collected nine points and eight rebounds against Mio and 14 points and 10 rebounds vs. Fairview. She left this week’s game vs. East Jordan with an injury, but once she returns, her near 6-foot height will be welcomed back.
“She’s long, and she’s strong,” Huff said. “So that makes her effective. And she’s quick. So she’s got a one-two-three punch there. We’ve just got to get her happy feet figured out. (Defensively), they get one shot with her, and that’s it. She’s there to get rebounds.”
“She plays like a freshman a little bit, but she’ll figure all that out. She definitely has a ton of potential.”
Johnson has sharpened her game at the AAU level in middle school. She said that has “really helped me flourished.” Local coaches Luke and Becky Townsend have also given her private instruction, which has paid off.
“I’ve gotten a lot of support from the community, which has helped a lot,” Johnson said. “Luke and Becky Townsend — a huge shout out to them — because they’ve helped out a lot. Especially my parents, too. They’ve pushed me to my limits and so have all the people in our community.”
Johnson didn’t even start playing basketball until the seventh grade, despite always being a taller kid.
“I definitely struggled that first year,” she said. “In eighth-grade, that’s when Luke and Becky really stepped up and helped me. ... So I’ve been working really hard over the summer, including with the AAU background. It’s just helped me so much.”
Johnson said her focus while playing in the paint is to get the ball in the hoop, whether that’s using her athleticism to beat her defender or using her height to suck in the defense and create open shots for her teammates. She did that early on against East Jordan before leaving the game with an injury, even setting up Alyce Vermilya with an open jumper near the foul line.
“I just always think about doing whatever is best for the team,” Johnson said. “I don’t want it to be a one-man show. I want it to be a team sport, and that’s what I’m all about when I’m down there. I try to see everybody. If I’m open, I’m open. I’ll take that opportunity. But if I’m not, I dish it right back out, and it finds its way back inside.”
Huff has a lot riding on Johnson. J-L’s future could depend on her becoming the next Stephanie Fisher or Madison Showerman. Only Huff expects her to be a star player in the paint.
“I anticipate her being one of the strongest centers that we’ve had,” Huff said. “Her dad is 6-2, 6-3, and she can jump, too. So that’s just going to help. That power forward/center position is something we hope she can dominate.”
And Johnson hopes so, too. Assuming she can, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Alma coaches coming to J-L to watch her play in the near future.
Cardinals move up JV players, struggle in 2nd half to East Jordan
OHANNESBURG – Johannesburg-Lewiston athletic director Joe Smokevitch said it felt a little weird.
And it was. He wasn't the only one in the gym thinking that way.
On the ticket table, there were two sets of game-day programs. On the left pile, there was a double-sided piece of paper with the J-L and East Jordan girls basketball team's rosters printed on it. The other pile had East Jordan's JV and Petoskey's freshmen on it.
That's because the Cardinals have only 12 girls – for both their JV and varsity teams – so, from time to time, coach Heather Huff will have to combine the two squads for one varsity game.
Tuesday was the first time we got to see that happen firsthand. J-L played East Jordan in the nightcap but only after EJ's JV and Petoskey played in the 6 p.m. matchup.
J-L kept it close against the Red Devils, but East Jordan pulled away in the second half for a 44-24 win in non-conference action. It's easy to see the Cardinals are stilling trying to figure out how to gel on the court.
"(Having one team) changes the dynamics of it," said Huff, whose team is 2-1 overall. "It's nice to have the extra girls to draw from and give the other girls a break. They practice together all the time, but when you get into the game, it does change the dynamics of it a little bit.
"It threw them off a little bit, but that was no excuse for the missed layups."
Holly Kussrow tossed a pass down low to Tara Madej (team-high six points), who scored a contested layup to knot the score at 7 in the first quarter. But East Jordan took an 11-7 lead into the second quarter, where J-L got a pair of 3-pointers from two of those JV players – Morgan McVannel and Autumn Vermilya – to keep the score close. However, East Jordan used a five-point run late in the quarter to carry a 20-13 lead into halftime.
Turnovers and missed shots in the paint marred the Cardinals' play to open the second half. They were held scoreless for a period of five minutes and 15 seconds in the third quarter alone. Huff threw in some of her JV girls in the fourth to give them a feel for the pace of varsity basketball.
"It's not tough. It's just a change," McVannel said. "It's very high-paced. Then you go back down (to the JV level), and it's a lot slower."
McVannel, a sophomore, said it was weird watching East Jordan and Petoskey play a JV game, since she would normally be the one out there playing for J-L. But coming off the bench helped ease her into the flow of the game.
"It seemed so slow compared to this," she said. "It's really weird to watch that game. Then you go into our game, and it's so fast-paced.
"(Coming off the bench) helped, for sure. Practicing as one team helps, too, for sure. We all know how to play with each other."
Sydney Townsend and Arielle Vermilya scored four points apiece, followed by Alyce Vermilya and Jersey Layman each with two.
"I thought they played really good defense and they hustled their butts off, and that's the really good positive," Huff said. "But we've just got to put the ball in the basket and take care of the basketball."
Late foul shooting pushes Cardinals past Mio
Clutch foul shooting helped the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team beat host Mio 40-39 in non-conference play Wednesday.
The Cardinals (2-0) trailed by three points in the fourth quarter, but Jersey Layman nailed a pair of free throws to put her team ahead once and for all. Kennedy Johnson and Sydney Townsend, who had nine points apiece, also hit free throws to keep that lead alive down the stretch.
"It's just awesome they never gave up," coach Heather Huff said. "They were at a height disadvantage, but they busted their butt on the court for rebounds and steals. They never got down on themselves. They kept fighting."
J-L held a 3-5 point lead for most of the game, but its play started waning in the third quarter.
"We were playing well but weren't able to finish our shots," Huff added. "They (Mio) caught us and went ahead by a couple of points, and it was pretty back and forth."
The Cardinals ratcheted up their defensive intensity, using full-court pressure, and Alyce Vermilya managed to swipe a few steals to assist in the comeback.
"They all hustled really hard in the fourth quarter, and Mio sent us to the foul line," Huff said,
Johnson, Cardinals out-rebound Fairview in opener win
JOHANNESBURG – Kennedy Johnson didn't play for the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team last year, but she knows just how far the Cardinals have come since then.
Johnson, then an eighth-grader, was the team's stat keeper, charged with tracking how many rebounds the team pulled down. She didn't have a whole lot of rebounds to tally during that 8-13 campaign.
So that's why longtime coach Heather Huff had the Cardinals focus on rebounding during the preseason. That extra work in practice paid off during Monday's season opener. They pulled down a staggering 37 rebounds as a team en route to downing Fairview 45-21 in non-conference action.
Johnson led the team with a double-double – 14 points and 10 rebounds.
"It felt good because I know that – from watching last year to this year – we had a really hard time getting rebounds," Johnson said. "I was taking stats, and I know we had a really hard time getting rebounds and getting them back up.
"That's what we've been working on in practice. We've been working a lot on rebounding and getting it back up in practice. It's helped us a lot."
The Eagles kept the score close in the opening minutes, but the Cardinals rode their defense as well as their rebounding to a quick 15-6 lead. They used 10-point run, which included both Arielle Vermilya (seven rebounds) and Holly Kussrow scoring easy layups on put back attempts. Fairview scored on only two trips down the floor in the quarter and also tacked on one free throw.
Tara Madej (12 points, eight rebounds) and Johnson also scored off put back attempts, while another time Madej grabbed a tough rebound and pushed it to Johnson for an easy score.
"We've worked on that A LOT," Huff said. "Our defense is a big part of that. That's their main goal: They (opponents) get one shot, and that's it!
"I was really happy with that tonight. I told them at halftime that they can't let up on that, and that was the difference in the game. ... It was nice to watch the girls work on some defense."
J-L lead just 21-11 at halftime, but it scored nine points quickly off 3-pointers from Alyce Vermilya (10 points) and Sydney Townsend (11 assists) to open the second half. The Cardinals never looked back after that.
They had some typical early-season gaffes – e.g. traveling, untimely fouls and defensive breakdowns. But that's nothing they can't fix as the season progresses.
Of course, if the Cardinals' rebounding continues to progress, too, that could make them the team to beat in the Ski Valley.
Lack of depth could hinder Cardinals' season
OHANNESBURG — Heather Huff has tried her best to strengthen the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball program, even recruiting potential players in the hallways at the high school.
To no avail, however, the veteran coach hasn't been able to add more numbers to either the JV or varsity. The Cardinals, who were 8-13 (6-10 SVC) a year ago, enter the winter with only 12 players in the entire program.
There's a chance they'll play a few games without a JV team altogether — a dire situation at a high school with an enrollment of 226 students and a successful history of deep, deep postseason runs earlier in the decade.
"This is probably my most challenging year," Huff said. "I don't even know what I'm going to do with it yet. It's going to be difficult. With having so few girls, it's going to be challenging to figure out if we'll be better off playing with one (varsity) team, or should we have two teams? Last year, two of our youngest kids (Tara Madej and Sydney Townsend) were already on the varsity. And this year we have only three freshmen."
The Cardinals graduated a bulk of their talent and scoring. Gone to graduation are Brooke McKenney, Alicia Korff and Deanna Miller, who were each All-Ski Valley Honorable Mention players, while Hannah Collins also graduated.
They do return Madej and Townsend — both of whom made the Herald Times All-Area Team — as well as twins Arielle Vermilya and Alyce Vermilya. Jersey Layman and Elizabeth Eaton saw some time on the court, but the two weren't consistent contributors. But they, too, are back. Other than that, it's nothing but fresh faces for J-L.
"I don't know how I'm going to divide the team yet," Huff continued. "I could have seven and five (between the varsity and JV). But if we get any injuries, it could go down to one team.
"It's going to be a week-to-week decision. I have been recruiting. There are just a lot of girls here who just don't want to play basketball."
So that's going to thrust some of the Cardinals' returners into a leadership role, who will be tasked with coaching along incoming players Jamie Burke, Holly Kussrow, Emma Shimel, Autumn Vermilya, Kennedy Johnson and Morgan McVannel.
For one player, that's kind of hard to believe. Madej is just a sophomore, but she's already one of the most-experienced starters on the team. Now she's a role model.
"It's good to be able to know that you're going to teach girls new things," she said. "But, yes, it was tough going from middle to high school last year, myself. Varsity is a lot more faster and a lot more aggressive. They push you to the best of your ability. In middle school, you don't really get that.
"So there's kind of pressure on you here. Knowing that if you go out there and give 110 percent, it's great. So I'm looking to show the younger girls that's what you need to do. It shows them you know what to do."
Of the new players, Huff said she likes Johnson's chances of becoming an early contributor. Huff used to watch Johnson play travel ball when she'd go and see Madej and Townsend play in the spring.
"They were often at the same place, so a couple of times I got to see her," Huff said. "She just really put a lot of time into the game and has a lot of natural skills. She has the height (5-foot-8) and can jump. I expect big things from her, but I don't know where she'll end up right away. But she's a post player and she can shoot outside."
The Cardinals at a glance
Coach: Heather Huff
2017-18 Record: 8-13 (6-10 SVC).
2017-18 Finish: Lost to Oscoda in the Class C district semifinal, 53-32; tied for fifth place in the Ski Valley standings with Inland Lakes.
Key Losses: Brooke McKenney, Alicia Korff, Deanna Miller, Hannah Collins.
Key Returners: Sydney Townsend, Tara Madej, Arielle Vermilya, Alyce Vermilya.
Newcomers: Jamie Burke, Holly Kussrow, Emma Shimel, Autumn Vermilya, Kennedy Johnson, Morgan McVannel.
No. - Name - Grade - Height
1 - Alyce Vermilya - 11 - 5-6
2 - Morgan McVannel - 10 - 5-4
3 - Emma Shimel - 9 - 5-7
4 - Autumn Vermilya - 9 - 5-5
10 - Sydney Townsend - 10 - 5-2
12 - Arielle Vermilya - 11 - 5-5
22 - Jersey Layman - 12 - 5-6
30 - Tara Madej - 10 - 5-10
32 - Kennedy Johnson - 9 - 5-8
33 - Elizabeth Eaton - 12 - 5-9
44 - Jamie Burke - 10 - 5-9
52 - Holly Kussrow - 11 - 5-7
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