West’s Johnson on the mend after foot injury

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 23, 2021

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By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

Injuries are part of every sport, but for two-sport star Caroline Johnson of West Forsyth, it’s partly genetics that contributed to the injury that she suffered last week.

Johnson, a senior, who plays girls basketball and softball for the Titans, was born with an extra bone in her left foot. And she knew that at some point, that could be an issue. It just so happened that it happened during her senior season for last week while in practice.

“We were a practice (last) Monday and I rolled my ankle, and I went to the doctor (last Wednesday),” she said. “And I have an extra bone in my foot, and it got disrupted. (The extra bone) skipped a generation. I don’t know who I got it from, but…”

Johnson, a 6-foot-2 post player, missed last week’s games at Parkland on Tuesday and home Friday against Glenn.

“I will go to the doctor again after Christmas break, and then they’re going to see if I can come back,” she said. “If I can come back, I’ll play. If not, I’ll probably be off it until the end of the season.”

Not only did she break the bone, it broke off.

“It is painful,” Johnson said. “It really hurts to walk on, so I don’t put full pressure on it.”

Johnson was in a walking boot on her left foot and was using crutches Friday night during West Forsyth’s 45-25 win against Glenn.

“I really don’t worry about stuff until it happens,” she said. “I’m just that kind of person. So, it really didn’t bother me until just now.”

In addition, senior Emma Holowiti was also in a walking boot Friday night after twisting her ankle in the Mount Tabor game on Dec. 10. It adds to the list of issues that first-year Coach Catrina Green has had with the Titans, who are 4-6 overall and 3-0 in the Central Piedmont 4-A. As of right now, West Forsyth only has eight healthy players.

“It’s been tough — losing one of my better role players in Emma Holowiti, and then Caroline Johnson, who we’re hoping to have back by the end of season,” Green said. “But it’s been tough. But the team understands that, we’ve had this conversation before about people stepping up, and I think everybody’s willing to do that. And that happened (last Friday) against Glenn).

Caroline Johnson, right. Photo by Jay Spivey, for the Clemmons Courier.

The fear of the unknown about whether she can play basketball the rest of the season is in the back of her mind. Still, her first sport is softball, playing mostly as a catcher, and she has signed to play at Queens University of Charlotte.

“I was definitely upset considering it’s my senior year,” Johnson said. “I’m really looking forward to a senior year since I was a freshman. I know that basketball is coming to an end this year, so it hurt a lot more to hear that basketball probably would be over.”

Coaches just have to navigate through injuries.

“It’s tough to deal with injuries,” Green said. “But I think we have a good enough team where people can step up. Luckily, we do have winter break, where hopefully (Johnson) can get some rest, get some treatment, and really figure what exactly is going on with her injury.

“She’s a big part of this team and we love having her here, and love having her presence on the floor, but injuries happen. That gives a chance for other people to step up. And I think everybody’s willing to take that chance and do that for this team to win.”

West Forsyth had school through this past Tuesday, and it and all the other Winston-Salem/County Schools will be out for the next two weeks for Christmas break. During those two weeks, the West Forsyth girls basketball team just has one game — Dec. 28 at home against West Stokes.

“No matter what, I’ll be here,” Johnson said.

After the West Stokes game, West Forsyth will not play — before it plays a Central Piedmont 4-A game at home against Reagan on Jan. 4, the final day of Christmas break.

“(This) week, we’ll have practice before they go on break, and they’ll have maybe five or six days for Christmas,” Green said. “And then we hit the ground running starting the 27th (the day before the West Stokes game when the Titans will resume practice).”

Green said the time off of the court will be helpful to the players and coaching staff.

“I want to be able to spend time with my family, and this is the first year I’ve been home for Christmas since COVID,” she said. “And everybody needs a break.

“I told them, get in the gym, get up shots. I trust at the varsity level that most of those kids are going to do that because they know coming back, we’ve got one day of practice, then we play West Stokes.”

Meanwhile, Coach Kevin Baity of the West Forsyth softball team, heard about Johnson’s injury and is monitoring the situation.

“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t know anything about it until they went to Lewisville (Middle School) to practice basketball because they were having the middle-school volleyball tournament at West Forsyth. And Madison (Baity’s eldest daughter, who is the head softball coach at Lewisville Middle School), said, ‘Did you know that Caroline was in a boot?’

“I said, ‘I had no idea.’ And then we had workouts this week, and Emily (Mutter), the other catcher, told me that Caroline was in a boot.”

Baity has paid close attention to Johnson’s injuries since here freshman season.

“I do know that she’s had some issues all through high school with her knees and her ankles,” he said. “So, I’m hoping that it’s just going to be something that she’s had to deal with.”

Whether Johnson is able to play basketball the rest of the season is still up in the air. But her four years at West Forsyth, she has seen quite a change.

Her freshman year, she was part of the 2018-19 NCHSAA Class 4-A state-championship girls basketball team, with players like Callie Scheier, Destiny Griffin, Shakira Baskerville and Alana Gary. And they Titans were coached by Brittany Cox Hudson, who’s now that athletics director at Lewisville Middle School.

While Cox Hudson was on maternity leave and missed all of last season, Johnny Hill was the interim coach. Now, Hill is one of the assistant coaches with Green.

“Coach Cox is definitely just my favorite coach of all-time,” Johnson said. “I don’t know, I’m just very close with her just because a lot of stuff happened my freshman year. and she took me under. Coach Hill is a great coach, as well. And Coach Green, it’s been hard to adjust. I mean she just came back to North Carolina, so she’s trying to get a feel for — she’s a first-year teacher here and she’s trying to coach.

“So, it’s a lot to do. And I think she’s doing a great job. We love her.”

The Titans had some growing pains early this season after defeating Atkins in the first round of the Mary Garber Holiday Tip-Off Classic before Thanksgiving, then lost six in a row before beating Mount Tabor.

“I can definitely see the difference in (the upperclassmen) and the younger kids,” Green said. “This is their first year or their second year in high school. And switching to a new coach, the older kids are more set in their ways from previous years. And it takes a lot more buffering for them to get on the same page.

“The younger kids are eager to learn. And they want to do the right things. That’s not saying the other kids don’t, but they’re so used to being coached the way they were before. Making that adjustment has been hard for some.”

Not only is it an adjustment for the players with a new coach. It’s an adjustment for a new coach dealing with players she didn’t know before August.

“I tell them that I understand that I’m a new coach,” Green said. “This is maybe your senior or junior year. Just allow yourself to be coachable. Don’t think about anything from last year or the years before because it’s different. Coach Cox is a different coach than I was. But we all want to do the same thing. We want to win basketball games. Just listen to us and be coachable and do your job. That’s been a big term for us lately.”

One particular issue with Johnson during her high-school basketball career is getting in foul trouble.

“I feel like I could just stand there and they would call a foul on me,” Johnson said. “It’s really frustrating. I get really mad. I mean, there’s nothing you can really do about it. I try and stay out of foul trouble. And the last couple games I actually have before I got injured.”

Green knows what it’s like to play as a center. After all, that’s what she played in high school and college.

“I knew she didn’t really have much of an opportunity to step up and be that dominant post player with some of the kids that have been here before,” Green said. “But I knew that she would be an effective force for us (in the post). You know, it’s tough that she’s injured right now.”

It’s also been frustrating for Green to see how often Johnson is in foul trouble.

“I see the frustration, but at some point, you have to realize as big girl that you don’t have to block every shot,” Green said. “She struggles with that coming across. You know, she’ll get the ball and she’ll get somebody’s body. You know, before her injury I was trying to teach her how to stay vertical and let them shoot into your hands.

“There’s only a few post (players) in this conference as tall as she is. And she could still get a clean block if she just times it correctly. Every 6-foot kid, 6-2 kid wants to get a blocked shot. And I understand it, but it took for my coach telling me how to do it, and effectively doing it, and understand what my presence meant on the floor, that I couldn’t try to block everything. I knew that I’m a big girl, they’re going to call fouls, and my team needs me more than I need a blocked shot.”

Whether Johnson plays basketball or not the rest of the season, her presence on or off the court is beneficial.

“Everybody knows their role on the team,” Johnson said. “So, as long as everyone just pushes to do their role, we’re going to be fine. I full believe in all the girls on the team.”

As for softball, Johnson expects to get over the injury and play at West Forsyth in the spring. It’s just a question of when.

“I committed to Queens University in Charlotte this past summer, and if I don’t get to play softball here, I don’t get to play softball here,” Johnson said. “It’s would be upset, but it’s also like I’m going to able to get to play again in college. So, it’s not going to be too hard for me.”

The last scheduled day of the regular season in basketball is Feb. 11, the conference tournament is the week after, and the NCHSAA tournament starts the week after the conference tournament. Softball practice begins on Feb. 14, and West Forsyth’s first scheduled game is March 3 at North Surry.

“That’s the really good part about me having two really good catchers (Johnson and Mutter),” Baity said. “Those two have complemented each other since freshman year. They both have started since freshman year.”

Baity said he alternates catchers every other game to keep both Johnson and Mutter fresh and rested.

“The ideal scenario is obviously need rest, especially when we play three games a week,” he said. “And I think that’s also, they get abused on weekends (in travel ball). Sometimes they’ll play seven games, and if they don’t have but one catcher, that’s awful. That could have something do to with a lot of the catchers’ injuries.”

If Johnson can overcome this foot injury, she should be able to flourish in college.

“There’s no question she has the ability,” Baity said. “She has the strength. Her arm strength is amazing. She has a lot of power. All the way back to her freshman year, I remember her first game ever as a high-school player she hit two home runs in a scrimmage.

“So, there’s no question she has the potential if she is healthy. Obviously, that’s a big issue. But I think she’s going to be successful at the next level. If she’s determined she wants to do it, there’s no question she can do it.”

Johnson went a step further in describing herself as a softball catcher.

“I’m just really good at it,” she said.