Niya Johnson knows something about winning.
As a player at P.K. Yonge, Johnson was a McDonald’s All-American and won two state titles.
She won a national title while at Baylor University.
And as a high school coach, she led Buchholz to its first playoff appearance in seven years just two years ago when the Bobcats won their first district title since 2013.
But last year Buchholz went 10-13 and ended the season with a loss to rival Gainesville, 65-47, in the 6A-District 3 semifinals.
GHS defeated Columbia (Lake City), 70-62, in the title game.
The Hurricanes and the Bobcats move to 6A-District 2 this year, dropping Columbia, Fleming Island (Orange Park), and Forest (Ocala), and adding Lincoln (Tallahassee), Leon (Tallahassee), Chiles (Tallahassee), and Mosley (Lynn Haven).
Johnson, who enters her third season, is hoping to get the Bobcats back in the state playoffs.
“In order for us to have a great year at Buchholz, we have to have leaders on the floor,” she said. “The coaches can’t always be the vocal one, I need players to be able to lead the team on the floor in a positive way.”
One of those players could be Jamison Cardwell.
Last year, Cardwell was a 2nd team All-Area selection (3A-6A) after averaging 12.3 points per game (PPG) as a freshman.
“Jamison Cardwell is an all-around player who loves to do it all,” Johnson said. “She is a very hard worker and always looking to improve her game outside of practice and games.”
Cardwell had a game-high 25 points against Forest (Ocala), and she finished the year with double digits scoring in 14 games. She was also second on the team with an average of 6.5 rebounds per game.
“She is a gym rat and as soon as you have a conversation with her, you would be able to tell that she loves the game of basketball so much,” Johnson said.
Seniors Samantha Moore, Toni Davis, and Diamond Jenkins, along with junior Kamryn Harper and sophomore Kennedy Wyckoff give the Lady Bobcats a total of six returnees.
Key additions include freshmen Isabella Alexander and Ja’niyah Fillmore and junior Taylor Booth.
“My expectations are for the girls to compete at a high level every game,” Johnson said. “And not just when they are competing, but in practice as well. I expect my players to make their teammates better each time we compete in practice.”
Games against GHS (Nov. 29), Trinity Catholic (Dec. 1), P.K. Yonge (Dec. 8), and Columbia (Jan. 28) highlight the home schedule. Buchholz will travel to Trinity Catholic (Jan. 3), P.K. Yonge (Jan. 4), Hawthorne (Jan. 25) and Vanguard (Ocala) (Jan. 26).
Johnson noted that there will be some challenges this season for her team.
“We don’t really have height, and we are a young team,” she said. “In order for the season to be successful, we have to lead each other when we are on the floor. And I’m not talking about just the seniors but everyone from lowerclassmen to upperclassmen.”
Buchholz will open the regular season on Thursday at West Port (Ocala).
“My thoughts on the West Port game are for my girls to have fun most importantly, but at the same time showcase their talents and be able to compete against someone else other than their teammates during practice,” Johnson said. “One game at a time and this is our first test with West Port.”
The Class 7A Wolfpack are 0-1 following a 52-50 loss at South Lake (Groveland) on Tuesday night.
“What I would like to see happen is for us to play as a team and be able to see what we are actually made of.”
The tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.