Freshman Johnson resets school record with 40 points
By Jason Arndt
Broken ankles and a turbulent final stretch of the regular season did not break the Wilmot Union High School girls basketball season.
The Panthers, who ended the regular season with seven straight losses, went without most of their squad because of injuries during that span.
But last weekend, Wilmot returned the bulk of its team for the WIAA Division 2 postseason, where the Panthers rattled off back-to-back victories to claim a regional title.
Wilmot on Feb. 12 routed visiting Delavan-Darien 71-51 behind a school-record 40 points from freshman McKenna Johnson in the regional semifinal before defeating Whitewater the next evening with a 69-48 decision.
Panthers coach Jerod Boyd, whose team improved to 12-10 overall, acknowledged the two consecutive wins would come to fruition once his squad returned to relative full strength.
The regional title, meanwhile, is a first for Boyd as coach in his 13 years.
“As a player I got it, but as a coach, this is my 13th year as a varsity head coach, never even been close,” said Boyd. “So this means the world to me. I love these kids who had a lot of adversity.”
Wilmot, seeded fourth in sectionals, looked to continue its season at top-seeded and third-ranked Reedsburg (17-1) in Thursday’s semifinal.
The winner of Thursday’s contest will play either No. 3 Jefferson or second-seeded McFarland in the WIAA Division 2 sectional final for a chance to qualify for the WIAA Division 2 State Girls Basketball Tournament Series.
Johnson previously broke the school record with 36 points in a Dec. 28 non conference contest against Watertown.
But on Feb. 12 in the regional semifinal with Delavan-Darien, the freshman sharpshooter reset her school record, scoring 40 points and propelled the Panthers to Saturday’s title match against visiting Whitewater.
Johnson, who scored 32 points in the Panthers 41-22 first half, another school record, went 10-for-14 from field goal range and made six of 10 3-pointers.
Additionally, the freshman collected 12 rebounds to pick up a double-double, while chipping in four assists and six steals.
“She can do anything, she can score at will and play defense hard,” Boyd said. “She is a great passer, a great rebounder.”
Senior Sophia Parisi, who contributed 13 points in her second game back from a broken ankle, said Johnson’s 3-pointers caused her and her teammates to erupt on the bench and from the court.
“She made six 3’s (Feb. 12) and when she hit those six 3’s, we were all going to crazy,” said Parisi.
Johnson, according to Parisi, showed tremendous leadership as a freshman in the route of the Comets.
Parisi added Johnson has three more years left to play and believes the freshman brings about a bright future for the Wilmot program.
“I just saw a freshman become a big leader, she is definitely going to lead this team to many victories in the future,” Parisi said.
For Johnson, meanwhile, she felt a positive vibe entering the regional semifinal because of her shooting form during pre-game warmups.
“Sometimes when my form is off, it is better to get to the basket because my form is off, but (on Feb. 12) I felt my form was really on,” Johnson said.
Johnson simply states resetting the school-record is an amazing achievement.
“It felt amazing that I was able to break the record,” Johnson said.
Seniors McKenna Williams (17 points) and Emma Gonzalez (14 points) along with sophomore Rylee Crull (12 points) contributed for Delavan-Darien (4-14).
Panthers wrap-up title
The following evening, on Feb. 13, the Panthers secured their regional title with a 69-48 win against visiting Whitewater.
Wilmot, top-seeded in regionals, carried a narrow 38-36 lead into halftime before outscoring the Whippets 31-12 in the second half.
Parisi scored 16 of her team-leading 20 points in the first half to keep the Panthers in contention while collecting seven total rebounds.
For Parisi, who missed 12 games because of a broken ankle, the regional final was her third game back from the injury.
Parisi, however, could have decided to end her senior season, but wanted to make up for lost time and help carry the Panthers to a regional championship.
“I knew we had a special year coming, so I knew that I had to work hard and get out there,” she said. “I missed those games due to injury, so I was making up for them. It is my senior year and just got to push as hard as I can.”
Johnson, limited in the first half because of early foul trouble, could see how determined was during the regional final.
“I could tell she wanted to win, she was driving (to the basket),” Johnson said.
While Johnson knocked in 17 points, including 8-for-16 in field goals, senior Kyleigh Pittman stepped up and collected a double-double.
Pittman, who went 3-for-4 in field goals, snagged 10 total rebounds and finished with 11 points for the Panthers.
Sophomore Olivia Raymond bolstered the Panthers offensive attack and knocked in 12 points, including 4-for-4 at the charity stripe, and collected six rebounds.
Meanwhile, for Whitewater, senior University of Wisconsin-Whitewater commit Kacie Carollo scored 22 of her game-high 28 points in the first half.
Carollo, according to Boyd, presented a challenge for the Panthers.
The Panthers, however, clamped down on defense in the second half, with senior Miranda Kendall playing a key role in guarding the Whippets’ senior.
No. 2 Whitewater concluded its season 10-13.