0

GWINNETT GRADS: Collins Hill's Johnson helps Reinhardt to big season

As is the case with many transfer students, Taylor Johnson joined Reinhardt University with a bit of uncertainty.

How much of an impact would she make? How would she fit in with her new teammates? How would the players get along with first-year Reinhardt coach Lindsey Huffman?

All of those doubts were put to ease pretty fast, though.

The Collins Hill grad, a junior who played her first two years at Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.), was voted a team captain prior to this season.

"Being voted captain was pretty cool in my first season here," Johnson said. "It was neat to make an impact."

That impact in leadership also extended onto the floor, where the 6-foot-2 post has helped the Eagles to a milestone season.

Johnson scored 21 points in the championship game last weekend as Reinhardt won its first-ever Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament title with a 59-52 win over Union (Ky.). It capped a surprising run to the championship by the fifth-seeded team, which earned its first bid to the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball Tournament, which begins next week in Sioux City, Iowa.

"Taylor just had that different determination that we often see out of her," Huffman said after the tourney finals. "She was really in tune offensively and wasn't letting contact affect her near the rim. The way she kept her composure and kept on attacking the rim was a huge difference for us."

Johnson's defensive work in the championship game was just as important as her game-high 21 points. She held all-conference Union post Lindsey Waters in check, demonstrating the defense that has led the Eagles all season. They rank fifth nationally in scoring defense (53.8).

"We've been the underdog all season," Johnson said. "I think we like the challenge. We're not the most athletic team, but we get after it."

Johnson leads the team in blocks and averages 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds. Her offensive game has evolved greatly from her days at Collins Hill, when she often deferred to other players.

She scored a season-high 29 in November against Brenau and is a major part of Reinhardt's offense.

"I think I'm more confident than I was at Collins Hill," Johnson said. "At Reinhardt, being captain and a scoring option, I think people (from Collins Hill) would be surprised at how I demand the ball. I look for my shot now. I'm not the role player anymore."

A huge challenge awaits this week for Johnson and the Eagles, whose roster also features reserve guard Bria Bankston, a freshman from South Gwinnett. They open the national tourney against St. Francis (Ind.), a 30-3 team and one of four No. 1 seeds in the bracket. St. Francis is ranked No. 2 nationally.

Reinhardt will be a heavy underdog in that one, just as it was in every AAC tourney game.

"We're really good at being the underdog," Johnson said. "Some teams might be intimidated by playing a team that was No. 1 in the nation last week, but we'll come in fearless and try to knock them off."

BASKETBALL

Chaney named all-conference

College of Coastal Georgia senior and Collins Hill grad Crystal Chaney was selected to the All-Southern States Athletic Conference Team this week.

Chaney led the Mariners, in their first season of SSAC play, with an 11.7 scoring average. She also was second on the team in rebounding (7.8). She opened the SSAC Tourney this week with 20 points and nine rebounds in a victory over Auburn-Montgomery.

Alverson on WBCA team

Auburn senior Blanche Alverson, a Buford grad, was one of five NCAA Division I women's basketball players on the inaugural Allstate WBCA Good Works Team, which was announced this week. It honors athletes who have made outstanding contributions for volunteer and charity work.

Alverson founded Ballin' For Books, a book drive program that donated more than 1,100 books to local libraries and literacy programs in its first year.

Fast break

Tiffany Clarke, a Norcross grad, led Vanderbilt to a 59-44 win over Auburn this week with a game highs of 22 points and 14 rebounds. ... Benedict College (S.C.) senior Monique Weathers, a Mill Creek grad, made six 3-pointers and scored 20 points Wednesday in her team's win over Albany State in the SIAC Tournament. ... Oglethorpe freshman Gabby Cole of Peachtree Ridge was honorable mention on the All-Southern Athletic Association Team this week. Cole averaged 10 points, 1.9 assists and 1.7 steals in her first college season.SWIMMING

Freeman named All-SEC

Former Greater Atlanta Christian swimmer Will Freeman, a sophomore at Georgia, was named to the All-SEC second team this week.

Freeman was SEC runner-up in the 1,650-yard freestyle last weekend with a time of 14 minutes, 44.38 seconds.Dudley earns

All-Patriot League nodNavy freshman Rachael Dudley made a big impact in her first Patriot League Championships, earning first-team all-conference honors earlier this week.

She scored 52 points, third-most at the conference meet, and was the event's highest-scoring freshman.

Dudley was Patriot League champion in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4 minutes, 50.01 seconds and was runner-up in the 1,650 free at 16:51.96. She also finished fourth in the 200 butterfly (2:02.63).

Karaulic makes all-conference

With strong showing on two relays, Berry College freshman Marko Karaulic made the All-Southern Athletic Association swimming and diving first and second teams.

The Collins Hill grad was on the first team for the 200 free relay and the second team for the 800 free relay.

SOFTBALL

Broome has big doubleheader

Ole Miss' Brittany Broome sparked her team's offense in Wednesday's sweep of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

The North Gwinnett grad went 6-for-7 with five stolen bases. She has 16 stolen bases this season and 58 career swipes, leaving her one off the school record entering this weekend's schedule.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com.