Up-and-coming Genoa sophomore backcourt stalwart Rachel “Guts” Johnson was able to do lead her team into battle with conference champion Lake, even though she was on a wobbly pair of crutches.
“I think Rachel is an amazing girl with a great attitude even though she’s hurt. Her being there in the gym that Wednesday night meant so much to the team, and to the Genoa crowd. As soon as she got there and we saw her, all of our feelings and our game went straight out to her, and especially all of our hearts. She is still a great team player, even hurt,” senior teammate Courtney Mowery said.
Senior Simone Eli added, “Rachel is one of my best friends on this team,” she shares candidly, “and she is so dedicated to our team, even though she can’t play right now. She wants it bad. She strives to win. And she has one of the most tremendous work ethics I’ve ever seen.”
Amazingly, Johnson’s appearance at the Lake-Genoa game was only about 6½ hours removed from a serious surgery in which her badly-torn right anterior cruciate ligament was repaired. The knee injury occurred in the first quarter of game six against Elmwood.
“It appeared to be just a routine, simple play, where she was running down the floor to defend, she got bumped on the side by another player, which caused her knees to sort of jar a bit, after which she went down, but really not until a few minutes after the play,” Genoa coach Tom Kontak said.
“Though again, when I went out onto the floor to check on her,” continues Kontak, “we were not exactly sure how serious Rachel’s injury was, but just that it was bad enough that she needed to come out, so she could start icing it.
“Rachel is about as tough as a kid as there is out there, so I can’t really repeat what she said when she hurt her knee, and knew she’d have to come out, because we call those words ‘Rachel Words,’” laughs Coach K.
Fans from both Genoa and Lake gave Johnson a standing ovation. Kontak says doctors say that she should expect a full recovery.
“We have all missed seeing Rachel out there, and battling with us on the court, because she had worked so hard for this, and was so anxious to be a part of this magical basketball season,” shares Kontak. “I mean, I have known Rachel ever since she first started playing basketball for the Genoa ‘Little’ Comets way back at the elementary school level, and then on into middle school. And although she actually played very few minutes for her seventh and eighth-grade teams, she’s always worked hard over the summers, she earned her minutes on the JV team, and she really did make me put her in the varsity lineup, because she worked so hard.
“What has always impressed me about Rachel, when I watch her compete, is the moxie she exhibits out there, and that she plays the game with such a chip on her shoulder, which her teammates love, because she is such a fighter for this team,” adds Coach K. “This year, Rachel was starting for us at the varsity level, and playing some major minutes. She plays outstanding defense. And she can handle the ball on the offensive end.
“And although she was averaging just about a point and a rebound per game before she went down, Rachel is an important part of a very close-knit group, all the way through both the Varsity and the Junior Varsity, and really throughout all 18 players.
“She makes us laugh when we need to laugh. She makes us work hard when we need to work hard. But most special of all, Rachel is there for us whenever we need her, which is always. And you saw that firsthand, along with everyone else, by her presence in that gym, on that Wednesday night.”
When Lake kncoked Genoa out of contention for their third-straight SLL title, 66-45, at Schwamberger Fieldhouse, Comet players had printed on the backs of all 17 girls’ right hands Johnson’s familiar No. 24 in bold, black Sharpie.
“Yeah, I was just sort of sitting at home, and thinking all about Rachel, and how much I just completely respected who she was, and how much she meant to our team one day,” interjects Coach K, “when I decided to ask assistant coach, Coach Chris Rawski, what he thought we all should do as a group, to demonstrate our love for Rachel.”
“It was Chris who came up the Sharpie idea, and we just went with it from there,” relates Kontak, “and when we actually started doing this, was ever since we definitely first knew that Rachel would be out for the rest of the year, and would have to have season-ending knee surgery on her right knee. And we put it on our right hands, so everyone could see those No. 24s when we put our hands up there all together as one in our team huddle, because we figured that was where everyone could best see it.”
“Really, words can’t describe how I feel about this latest gesture, and how I feel about everything this group does together,” the coach continues. “That is just how close together they all are. That is just how much each and everyone on this team means to us.”