Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

When Leah Johnson left Notre Dame High School in 2019, she was unsatisfied with her basketball career thus far. So, she decided to rewrite her story and work to become the player she wanted to be. Today in 2024, she is the all-time assist and scoring leader in West Chester University (WCU) women’s basketball history. 

When Johnson was in kindergarten, she wanted to play basketball but rec leagues were unavailable for five-year-olds. With the help of her dad, Johnson was allowed to play with first and second-graders. “I didn’t score a point all year, but I knew I loved basketball.” From there, she attended basketball camps, played in rec leagues and eventually joined an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team in eighth grade. In high school, Johnson did not get a lot of playtime until her junior year. However, she is grateful for her coach’s role in molding her work ethic. “My head coach would always instill hard work and the understanding that to be good you have to do all of the little things,” Johnson told The Quad. 

Since she was a junior in high school, Johnson knew WCU was the place for her. “I was down on South Campus for an AAU tournament and Coach [Wooden] and Coach [Hostetter] were there.” The two coaches talked to Johnson after the game and frequently kept in touch. “They have big hearts, they care about me and they wanted me to come here and be successful,” Johnson reflected. “I just felt that if I came here I was going to be able to make the impact that I wanted.”

Johnson made an immediate impact on the program. “Coming in I wasn’t promised a starting spot or time in general,” she remembers. The Rams already had a point guard, so she had to adjust to being a shooting guard. “I worked at trying to score all summer, so I came in, put my head down and did what they asked. If they needed me to guard the best player, I would do it.” Her hard work paid off because, as a freshman, Johnson led the team in minutes played and points scored. That same year the Rams finished with a 9–18 record. The next season was almost exactly the same, finishing 9–19. “We had two down years, that’s how college sports go,” Johnson told The Quad. “I remember after sophomore year, it was like something needs to change and if it’s going to change it’s going to be now.” The team had vulnerable conversations with the coaches and the coaches started to look in the transfer portal. Junior guard, Anna McTamney, had to leave the University of the Sciences because the school closed in 2022. Johnson stated, “She told me if I stayed at West Chester she could promote playing with me and it worked out.”

The next season, Johnson’s junior year, could not have been more different from previous years. The Rams finished 24–9 with an incredible playoff run. During the 2022–2023 season, Johnson was named All-PSAC East first team, Collegiate Sports Communicators Academic All-District, DIICCA Second Team All-Atlantic Region, CSC Third Team Academic All-American and WBCA honorable mention All-American. 

Johnson came into the 2023–2024 season — her final year — determined to leave WCU as a champion. The Golden Rams were regular season co-champions with Shippensburg University last year, so this year they are coming for the PSAC championship. Johnson has been a part of great teams in the past, but the last two seasons have been special to her. “We enjoy each other a lot more, we hang out a lot more and we laugh a lot,” remarked Johnson. “I think we know we are really good, so it’s not that we’re afraid to lose, we just want to win and beat teams by as many points as possible.” She added that the players are more familiar with one another, so they play to everyone’s strengths. “I think the sky is the limit for this team.”

On Jan. 13, Johnson made history by becoming the all-time assist leader for WCU. On Feb. 7, she proved she wasn’t done yet and broke the all-time scoring record with 1626 points. Johnson shared that these accomplishments have not yet set in for her and that it probably won’t hit her until the season is over. After last year, she saw the assist record was within reach and knew it was a real possibility for her. When it comes to the scoring record, she says it just fell into her lap. “I bring a lot of things to the table for this team and sometimes they just need me to put my head down and score,” she said. “I’ve gotten really good at creating shots for other people, but also creating shots for myself.” WCU men’s basketball head coach, Damien Blair, told Johnson, “You don’t know what you just did, but in 10 years from now you will.” 

Johnson is currently in the MBA program at WCU, preparing for life after basketball. “I love basketball and I wish I could play forever,” admits Johnson. She will remain close to the game by coaching AAU and hopefully high school in the near future. Although she will be moving back to New Jersey, she will always be around the WCU basketball program. “This place is definitely home, but I’m ready to come back as an alum.” 

 


Rebecca Arnold is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Journalism. RA953057@wcupa.edu

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