Head coach Cathy Nixon was desperate. The team was in a tailspin, and she needed to find a source of offense before the season got out of hand.
Jenna Johnson was one of only two seniors on the team, and the only one to play in Nixon’s rotation. She should have been the steadying influence. Instead her shooting was erratic at best, atrocious at worst. Longevity aside, she became the leading candidate for Nixon’s next adjustment.
Johnson was taken out of the starting lineup, a senior-year demotion that could have led to depression. Instead, it led to motivation.
“It’s frustrating knowing that you can do more,” Johnson said. “If shots aren’t falling for you there’s not much you can do. I started staying after practice and shooting more hoops. I think that helped.”
Did it ever. The former Spanish Fork Don ended the season having scored in double figures in six of the final eight games this season. Her game-high 18 points sparked the Wolverines after a lackluster start in Friday’s semifinal game against NJIT, and she scored six straight in the first half of Saturday’s championship game loss to North Dakota.
Johnson’s production after her transition to a reserve role left Nixon gushing after her final game with UVU, Saturday.
“Hasn’t she been awesome lately?” Nixon said, “What an amzing attribute to her character. Sh’es a senior and I take her out of the starting lineup and she responds with just palying so much better. I think that’s really one of the things I’m most proud of with Jenna. It’s not making baskets.”
The adjustment did not come without emotion – or work. Nixon admitted Johnson didn’t accept the decision with wholeheartedness, but it was her reaction, not her willingness, that impressed Nixon the most.
“She took it in stride,” Nixon said. “She wasn’t happy about it. She asked what she could do to change it. Then she just started competing and putting the ball in the basket. That was really rewarding for me to see that and a real compliment to her.”
For Johnson, most of the frustration stemmed not from her demotion, but from the problem that caused it – a lost shooting touch. In 2010 she was one of the biggest reasons for UVU’s surprise tournament championship as a sixth seed, often among the team leaders in scoring during their season-ending run.
“You just have to dig your way out of it, and that’s what I tried to do.”