MOUNT PLEASANT — Belding’s Taylor Johnson just finished her second season as a member of the Central Michigan women’s basketball team.
It was season of fun, full of learning experiences and heartbreak.
The Chippewas began the season with four consecutive losses. They put together a streak of 11 wins in 14 games and finished with a seven game winning streak before two heartbreaking one-point losses ended their season.
CMU finished its season 20-16 overall and 8-8 in the MAC West division. They just narrowly missed a trip to the women’s NCAA tournamentwhen they lost 72-71 in the MAC tournament final to Eastern Michigan.
“It didn’t feel real. We had it,” Johnson said. “It slipped out of our fingers with eight seconds left. I’ve replayed those last eight seconds over and over in my head.”
The Chippewas took a 71-70 lead with just 14 seconds remaining on a basket by freshman Crystal Bradford. Eastern traveled on its next possession giving Central the ball back almost immediately.
A few seconds later, Jessica Green was fouled by Eastern, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Eastern rebounded the ball and Paige Redditt hit a left-handed shot with just 1.5 seconds remaining to win the conference championship.
“She (Redditt) threw up a left-handed hook. Just tossed it like one of those Hail Mary’s and it went in,” Johnson said. “My heart just dropped. It was awful.”
Eastern’s — a No. 12 seed — reward was a game against No. 5 seed South Carolina, who defeated the Eagles 80-48 in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
Central earned a bid to the WNIT tournament and lost at Illinois State 69-68 in the first round. A three-pointer with 18 seconds left in the game the Redbirds the win.
“It was the exact same scenario as Eastern,” Johnson said. “They beat us with just seconds left.”
For the season, Johnson averaged 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. She shot 39 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range.
Johnson was named the MAC all-tournament team, earned MAC honorable mention honors and was named the MAC West player of the week on Dec. 19.
“It’s a nice honor. I’m proud, but I wouldn’t have been able to get that without my team,” Johnson said. “This team has faced a lot of adversity and I wouldn’t have accomplished anything without them being there to help me through it or to pick me up at times.”
Johnson played in 34 games and started the final 16 games of the year.
“I don’t know why she put me into the starting five. People have asked me what was different,” Johnson said. “The only difference is when I go into the game I get a big flashy entrance. Other than that it’s still a 40 minute game of basketball.”
Johnson’s role remained the same as coming off the bench. Her energy was needed in the starting lineup.
“Coach (Sue Guevara) told me when I came off the bench I came in with energy and brought excitement to the floor,” Johnson said. “She wanted that at the start of the game. So I think that is what she was getting at.”
Despite all the honors, Johnson said she still has a lot to work on. Especially, on the defensive end of the floor.
“There is a lot of I have to work on still. Defense, especially,” Johnson said. “That is my main focus now, getting my defense together this summer. And I have to keep working on those free throws.”
Overall, Johnson said the season was a lot of fun. The team’s schedule included trips to New Orleans and to Alaska.
“The experiences were a little bit different than my freshman year,” Johnson said. “We got to go to New Orleans and Alaska. It was a fun experience and a lot of new experiences. It was a fun season.”
Next year’s schedule may feature a trip to Hawaii or Miami in one of the many preseason tournaments around the country.
Preparations have already started for next season. The team will begin workouts next week and that will continue until the end of school on May 5.
The players get away from school until June 26, but will still have to continue a workout and conditioning schedule while gone.
“It never stops. It’s fun, but it has been hard,” Johnson said. “There have been a couple of times where I felt burned out. But, it’s fun overall. I love it.”
Johnson returns to school at the end of June to begin summer school and more season preparation.
As for next year, Johnson wants to win a MAC tournament title.
“I want to get back to the MAC tournament and win it,” Johnson said. “We know what it takes to get there now. We learned a lot this year. That is my goal to win it.”