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HS girls basketball: Freshman Johnson powers Rush-Henrietta

Forward follows sister as MVP in a Royal Comets repeat

Jeff DiVeronica
Staff writer

(March 1, 2005) Shenise Johnson watched from the seats at Blue Cross Arena last year as her older sister, Shawntalae, led Rush-Henrietta to the school's first Section V girls basketball championship since 1985.

On Monday night she was back in the same arena, but this time she was on the War Memorial court for the first time and she sparked the Royal Comets to a second straight Class AAA title.

The freshman forward showcased her precocious all-around game, scoring 26 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, as No. 2 Rush-Henrietta beat No. 4 Fairport, 66-51.

"My sister was a leader," Shenise said of Shawntalae, who was in the crowd watching. "I'm just trying to follow in my sister's footsteps."

JAY CAPERS staff photographer
Fairport's Rachel Mattei, right, works against Rush-Henrietta's Kristen Taliento for a loose ball during their Class AAA title game. Rush-Henrietta won to defend its crown.

She did. Shenise, just like her sister, was named tournament MVP.

"I was impressed with her focus," said coach Steve Shepanski, whose 17-4 team will play Greece Athena (18-3) in Wednesday's 5 p.m. state tournament qualifier at the arena. "Maybe she's too young to realize what was going on around her."

Fairport (14-7) realized it but could do little about it.

"She's a tough matchup," coach Scott Forrest said of the 5-foot-10 Johnson, who is quick and strong. "But they're all athletic. Defensively, they really applied the pressure, we turned it over and they took advantage of it and ran it. You can't let a team like that get out on you."

R-H led by 11 late in the second quarter after getting a big lift off the bench from junior forward Kristen Taliento, who finished with 14 points. She scored seven straight during one stretch, grabbing rebounds and converting against bigger opponents.

"I just try my hardest," the all-tournament team pick said. "And I want it more than everybody else."

But Fairport, which split with R-H during Monroe County League play, also received a boost off the bench as freshman forward Brittany Wilson scored 10 of the Raiders' 14 points in the second quarter, and they trailed just 34-30 at halftime.

Wilson finished with 14 points and senior guard Mallory Kennedy added 13. Senior center Julie Marriott had trouble converting, mostly against Johnson and Onica Jones, and finished with eight points, about half her average.

As Fairport went cold in the third quarter, the Royal Comets ripped off a 15-4 surge to seize control. Johnson (six points) and Jones (four) fueled it, and when Katelyn Faas made a steal and passed ahead to Johnson for a breakaway layup to close the quarter, R-H led 53-38.

The lead never dipped below 11 in the fourth. Fairport had a faint thought of a comeback when it trailed 60-49 with 4:39 to go, but Johnson snared a rebound one of her six offensive boards and used her left hand for a back-breaking stick-back.

"She really came through for us," Jones said.

Johnson actually played for R-H last year, but by the time sectionals came along she was no longer on the team. She attributed her absence to "bad decisions."

She missed a handful of games this season for unspecified reasons. When she does play, it's obvious she has the raw talent to play major-college basketball.

"As sectionals got going I really saw referees start to let teams play, as opposed to calling a tight game," Shepanski said. "And if she's allowed to play in that type of game, she can do what you saw her do tonight."