2018-19 JUNIOR VARSITY & VARSITY BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
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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