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Georgetown College women's basketball program is synonymous with one name, Susan Johnson. When the Decatur, GA native came here in 1978, her goal was to eventually be a professor - and she was on the sidelines for Tiger women's basketball. Now 32 years later, Johnson will retire at the end of the 2010-11 season.
"I cannot say enough about the impact she has had on our institution, not to mention the lives of the young women she has coached for these many years," said GC Director of Athletics Eric Ward. "The legacy she has established will live on at Georgetown College and the vision of academic and athletic excellence she created will serve as a blueprint for the coach that follows in her footsteps."
She took the job as a teacher and coach, looking to finish her doctorate and focus in on teaching.
"My passion is coaching," Johnson said. "When it came time to choose between the two, I couldn't give up coaching. It was my passion, and I was still able to teach."
Since 1978, she has been directing the Tiger women's basketball team, taking one sabbatical season in 1989-90. In her 31 years, Georgetown is 578-363, a 61.4 winning percentage. GC has advanced to 11 NAIA National Tournaments, including seven in a row, and three Elite Eight finishes. Georgetown has won six Mid-South Conference Championships, three KIAC Championships and three NAIA District/Regional Championships under Johnson's direction.
However, it seems an unfair question to ask what the veteran coach's favorite memory is.
"That's a difficult one," Johnson said. "I've had so many moments over the years."
Of course the title teams always seem to stick out.
The 1989 team came from 16 points down to defeat rival Campbellsville, to earn the tournament championship and a first-ever appearance at the national tournament.
As the first it is very memorable in its own rights, but what happened makes it even more interesting.
"We were playing Tri-State University on the road," Johnson said. "We made the trip a day early, did our practices and walk-throughs. Then it was game day. We went to get our uniforms and realized we didn't have them."
GC ended up playing in the Tri-State road uniforms, losing just 86-81.
The 1993 team brought another first, an Elite Eight appearance. This team and the 2001 team stick out not only for their championships, but for the ability to take a losing season from a year before and turn into a title winning team. The 2001 team also started a string of seven straight national tournament appearances.
Johnson does have a very special place for the 2003 MSC Champions and National Tournament qualifying team. All odds were against her Tigers during a bizarre season that saw a roster of 13 be trimmed down to five players and a manager.
"We had four freshman posts that season. Two quit before the first weekend games," Johnson said. "A third quit the day after we returned from our Christmas break trip. That very same day the fourth broke her jaw in practice."
Other injuries, such as a season-ending ACL tear to point guard Erin Young just continued to whittle away Johnson's available bodies. But the bodies she was left with in the end are of which coaching dreams are made.
Jamie Hockensmith took over the point guard role. Neeley Thomas played the two guard. Katie Columbus was the three guard. Rachel Vincent went from shooting guard to a forward and 5-10 Andi Johnson went from a guard to center.
The manager, Lee Webb, had been a member of the team in prior seasons, but injuries had forced her to choose to sit.
"We activated her," Johnson said. "So we had five players and a manager that season. By the time we got to the conference tournament our post with a broken jaw, Tameka Willrich, was able to come back and help us."
Georgetown went 22-12 that season. The Tigers tied for the regular season title with three other teams, but were given the fourth seed in the tournament. This meant after a first-round home game, the team would be on the road the next two games to try and win the crown.
"We beat Campbellsville at Campbellsville for the title," Johnson said.
The veteran coach laughed about that season, remembering how timeouts were not made for instructing and coaching but resting, and that practices were spent doing walk-throughs and shooting free throws.
"We couldn't practice. Our bodies needed the rest," Johnson said. "I didn't have to coach that year, I just had to stay out of their way.
"It is hard to top that team."
The 2005 team is another memorable season as the Tigers had the best chance to advance to the Final Four.
"We were a bucket short," Johnson said. "Neeley hit a buzzer-beater in the round of 16 to advance to the Elite Eight. But we lost to a very good Houston Baptist team in a game that could have gone either way."
In 32 years, she has coached 11 All-Americans, 26 All-Conference players and 17 NAIA All-Academic Scholars.
The veteran coach's laser like focus on her team has her leaving out all of her personal accolades over the years.
She has been named Coach of the Year seven times - four in the MSC and three in the KIAC. She was also the 1994 NAIA Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year. Most recently, March 16, 2010, in Jackson, TN she became only the fourth Georgetown coach inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame - the highest honor bestowed by the organization.
"Georgetown College has been fortunate to have had three NAIA Hall of Fame coaches over the years, (Bob Davis, Jim Reid and Donna Hawkins) with Susan Johnson now being the fourth," Ward said. "It is rare for an active coach to receive such recognition, which is indicative of the impact that she has had on Georgetown College over the past 32 years of service."
In that time, Johnson has watched assistants come and go and said that can be one of the hardest parts of the job.
"Over the years, I've learned something from each of my assistant coaches. Seeing the changeover was always hard because you develop such an intimate relationship with your fellow coach," Johnson said. "It is like a marriage. You have to know how each one works and completely trust each other. I've learned about relationships from my assistants. I tend to be more of a detailed oriented person and it has been good for me to see how my assistants interact with the players. I think over the years, I have had a lot of really good balances between my skills and my assistants."
Several of those assistants stand out. Lee Vanhoose, a former player for Johnson, was the first part time assistant and was the longest tenured assistant with six years on the sidelines in the ‘80s. Angie Sanders was a graduate assistant when the Tigers went to their first Elite Eight. Ron Williams, who then went on to coach Kentucky Wesleyan, was the first full time assistant. Now Andrea McCloskey, who at the beginning of this season was tabbed associate head coach, has served with Johnson for five years.
"Before coming to Georgetown, the draw was to coach with Coach Johnson," McCloskey said. "I had never played for a woman coach or coached with one, so I knew I was going to be able to learn a lot about what it is like in this business as a female. I knew she had been a very successful coach and it was all a draw to me in wanting to come here."
Johnson's dedication to Georgetown and women's sports does not end at the basketball court. The veteran coach is passionate about advancing female athletes' opportunities, evident in her willingness to coach a sport she had never played, volleyball. She was a three-sport athlete at Furman University - field hockey, basketball and tennis - but when Georgetown asked her to take over as the volleyball coach she did not shy away. She coached for two seasons, keeping a sport that is now a dominate program on campus going.
She also coached the tennis team for 12 years, with several doubles teams and singles players advancing to the national tournament, and the softball team.
"Susan has not only been instrumental in the development of women's sports at Georgetown College, she has also championed gender equity issues and opportunities for women in all sports through her coaching and volunteer service with numerous organizations across the state and the nation," Ward said.
Her dedication to female athletics extended to serving as president and treasurer of the Kentucky Women's Intercollegiate Consortium and a member of the NAIA/WBCA Nominating Committee, as well as a former NAIA representative to the WBCA Board of Directors.
Georgetown College has not been the only benefactor of Johnson's presence in Scott County.
"In my five years coaching with her, one thing that really stands out is her passion to give back," McCloskey said. "At Rio (Grande, where McCloskey played and served as an assistant coach), we didn't always have those opportunities. Coach Johnson is very dedicated in that and I think that has really shaped me."
Johnson is a part of Scott County's Habitat for Humanity and for the past 17 years the women's basketball team has been helping run or organize the Habitat Classic tournament - the past 10 of which the Tigers have solely been in charge.
The weekend tournament gives 100 percent of the proceeds back to the Scott County branch of Habitat and to date has raised over $68,000. Johnson also incorporated the Ride & Stride event this year, a fundraiser the weekend before the tournament to raise more money for Habitat.
She is also a member of the Georgetown Kiwanis, a group that helps raise money for children.
Johnson is dedicated to encouraging her players and Georgetown athletes in general in getting involved in giving back to the community. She heads up a student-athlete leadership committee that organizes various events such as a food drive at Thanksgiving and Salvation Army bell ringing and a toy drive for Toys for Tots at Christmas. This committee gets the word out to the athletic coaches and players on campus.
Through her church in Lexington, Johnson, her assistants and her players have also been a part of reaching out at a men's rescue center. The team helps to serve meals to the men staying in the shelter for the night once or twice a season.
The veteran coach will remain on campus through June 30, but what are her plans after that?
"I'm ready for some weekends, Christmas breaks, spring breaks, fall breaks," the veteran coach said with a laugh. "I don't know what the future holds, but the doors are wide open."
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