MOUNT PLEASANT — Central Michigan’s women’s basketball team hadn’t won a Mid-American Conference championship since 1984. That was also the last time the Lady Chippewas had been to the NCAA Division 1 women’s tournament.
All that changed this season when CMU won the MAC tournament and was in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
2010 Belding graduate and CMU junior forward Taylor Johnson got to be a part of that bit of history this season, and she described the trip to Columbus, Ohio as “unforgettable.”
“It was so nice,” she said. “I wish we could have went farther. They simply shot the lights out.”
“They” was Oklahoma, who beat the Chippewas in the first round of the NCAA tournament 78-73 despite 36 points from sophomore Crystal Bradford.
“If you look at it, we outrebounded them, we caused more turnovers,” Johnson said. “We played spectacular defense. They just shot 50 percent from the three(-point line). It’s hard to beat someone when they can’t miss. Everything they threw up just went in.”
Off the court, Johnson said, “The experience is insane. Things are going on all the time.”
Johnson recounted the time the Chippewas arrived in Columbus.
“We had practice right away at the new gym,” she said. “There was cameras everywhere. (ESPN analyst and former Detroit Shock player) Swin Cash was interviewing everybody. There were cameras everywhere just taping us. It was a different atmosphere.”
Every team that went to Columbus had their own hotel to stay at and “our lobby was filled with people,” Johnson said. “It was a business trip but at the same time it was fun.”
It was only the third time in CMU women’s basketball history that the Chippewas had gone to the “big dance.”
“We’ll get back there next year,” Johnson said.
Johnson had been playing with pain in her left knee all season long. She had previously endured two surgeries on her meniscus.
“There’s not a lot of meniscus left,” she said. “I’m playing with a 40-year-old knee and I’m 21.”
So to prepare for her senior season of basketball, Johnson said she will have to take care of that knee.
“I had an MRI on Monday, I saw two doctors,” she said. “There’s talk about surgery and injections. That’s my main thing. I hope I don’t have another surgery.”
Meanwhile the Chippewas lose three seniors in Jessica Schroll, Jalisa Olive and Brandie Baker. Schroll was third on the Chippewas in points scored and Olive and Baker played in all 32 games this season.
“We’re losing a great defender and a great shooter with Jal (Olive),” Johnson said. “We have great people coming in. We have a six-foot player coming in. We have to come together. We have key ingredients coming back. We’ve got good people coming back. We have to work hard in the offseason because championships are won in the offseason, not in the season. Right now this summer we have to keep working hard in the weight room and conditioning.”