Shania Johnson is determined to savor every second of this season for Stony Brook, partly because she is a senior and partly because she savors every second of every season after having missed the game so much when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament twice.
“It makes me appreciate everything,” the 5-1 point guard who was named to the America East women’s first team last season, averaging 16 points, 5.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds, said. “I just want to be out there. I figure I sat so long. I just want to be better every day.”
She is motivated to help the Seawolves be even better than they were last season, when they were a solid 18-12 and 10-6 in the conference. This is the last chance for that next step. “My hopes for this season are for this team to come together and make it to the America East championship game and to win it,” she said. “Individually, I want to be better, to grow as a person.”
Johnson grew inwardly in middle school, when people began calling her “Shorty.” She decided not to be offended by it and has proudly carried the nickname with her from Tuscarosa High School in Frederick, Maryland to Monroe College, a two-year school in New Rochelle. She stood up to daunting rehab in both of those places.
“Stressful,” she said. “With the surgery, it opened my eyes more, you know what I mean? It made me a different player. It was really hard the first time. The second time, it was still hard but it gave me an open mind to be a better player because I wasn’t giving up.”
Coach Caroline McCombs, beginning her fifth season at Stony Brook with a squad picked in a tie for second in a preseason conference poll, said, “That’s not an easy injury to come back from one time, let alone two times. Shorty came in and just was really able to set the table for our team last year. She was able to score, she was second in the league in assists. She is very unselfish. She makes us go.”
McCombs added, “It’s just a lot of fun to see the growth process of your players. It’s exciting to see the strides they make daily.” She pointed to the other senior guard, Jerell Matthews of Chicago, who was a reserve two years ago then flourished so much as a starter last season (14 points per game) that she was named to the America East third team.
“I really am embracing it, leading the freshmen who are coming in,” Matthews said. “Our defense is something we really want to pick up. It was good last year but we want to make it even better. It’s something we want to be known for.”
The Seawolves seniors also would like to be known for having put a championship banner on the wall.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Jerell Matthews 5-9 Sr.
She came to Stony Brook from halfway across the country because she was intrigued by the school’s academic reputation. Matthews proved she is a learner on the court, too. “Last year was a breakout season for her,” coach Caroline McCombs said of the sociology major. “She really came into her own and built that confidence through her hard work. Once she started to learn things, offensively and defensively, it was her time to shine.”
McKenzie Bushee 6-1 Soph.
In her first college season, Bushee (pronounced Boo-SHAY) became a starter and ultimately a member of the America East all-rookie team. She scored a season-high 14 points against Syracuse and twice had 11 rebounds. She is from Mt. Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh, alma mater of Mavericks owner and Shark Tank host Mark Cuban.
India Pagan 6-1 Soph.
Pagan led Stony Brook with a 54.5 field-goal percentage last season, coming off a heralded run as a high school star. She led New London to the Connecticut Class LL title and a No. 1 overall state ranking. In each of the past two summers, she has represented Puerto Rico in international competition, leading the 2017 Under-18 team in rebounding.