Emilie Johnson shows her CLASS

By Justin A. Lawson, Auburn Journal Sports Writer

It's been a long time since Emilie Johnson sank baskets in an official capacity at Del Oro High but the lessons she learned in Loomis, on and off the court, have obviously traveled with her to UC Santa Barbara.

The former Eagles standout will be one of the Gauchos' top players when her career comes to a close in a few months. She has also made a lasting impact in the community through a number of volunteer projects. All of her accolades have led her to possibly another as she was recently named a finalist in the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. (Click here to vote!)

"Making the top-10 is so humbling," Johnson said. "I really am at a loss for words for the recognition but it's definitely an honor that I really appreciate."

The award recognizes senior athletes in a variety of sports who make an impact both on and off the field of play. CLASS is an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School. The field was narrowed down to 10 in January after the initial list was unveiled in November. Johnson is second in voting with 19.8 percent.

Fans can vote at Seniorclassaward.com through March 18. The winner will be announced during the NCAA Women's Final Four April 1-3 in Denver.

In the four years she has been away from Del Oro, Johnson has filled her schedule with classes as a psychology major; basketball, where she led the Gauchos in scoring the last two years and volunteer work, which could be made into a resume itself.

On the court, she has undergone a change she never had to deal with in high school: a new coach. As a senior at Del Oro, where Mike Takayama has held the title of coach for 26 years, Johnson was recruited by UCSB's legendary coach Mark French, who retired at the end of the 2007-08 season after 21 years. Lindsay Gottlieb took over for French and led the Gauchos to the NCAA tournament in Johnson's freshman season. She resigned before this season to take the same position at Cal.

Carlene Mitchell took over for Gottlieb and brought 10 years experience of sitting behind legendary Rutger coach C. Vivian Stringer.

Johnson's numbers are down this season with only 8.5 points per game compared to 13.7 last season. The loss in scoring productivity, though, doesn't mean she has taken a backseat in Mitchell's offense.

"I don't want to say a different role, I just think that what I've tried to instill in this program, what I hope for a future foundation, is it's five players on the floor and I think at times she had to carry the burden," Mitchell said.

Johnson has put a lot of responsibility on her shoulders. As a sophomore, her 37.2 minutes per game ranked near the top in the country. She played so much that she developed runner's knee but Johnson hasn't let that stop her from leading the team in minutes played so far this season.

She also represented the U.S. in the 2011 Pan American Games where she started all four games.

Off the court, Johnson has found a way to fit in a plethora of volunteering opportunities. She has worked with a number of different programs from the Boys & Girls Club to autism awareness, senior citizen centers and at an on-campus shelter during a rage of fires that swept through the Santa Barbara area during her sophomore season.

"We've been blessed with so much being able to play Division I basketball and especially playing at this great university and just having this opportunity makes me want to give back," Johnson said. "It's something that I enjoy doing, something that I want to do."

Her college basketball career is coming to a close with just eight regular season games remaining. She should reach the school's top 10 in assists and will be in the top 15 in points.

Johnson has thoughts of playing overseas if the opportunity arises but will look to earn her Master's degree and transition into coaching. Johnson joked that she might come back to Loomis to take over for Takayama whenever he decides to walk away.

For now, though, Johnson is just enjoying her final days as a Gaucho.

"It's hard to get my mind around it's coming to a close soon, but I've enjoyed every moment, every challenge, every happy moment," Johnson said. "Just every day has been a total learning experience."