NDSU women's basketball player Holly Johnson says Bison expected play despite injury
FARGO -- It's been a roller coaster seven months for Holly Johnson, and this week, the former North Dakota State women's basketball player says she was pushed to play despite not being sufficiently recovered from a foot injury.What started as a b...
FARGO - It’s been a roller coaster seven months for Holly Johnson, and this week, the former North Dakota State women’s basketball player says she was pushed to play despite not being sufficiently recovered from a foot injury.
What started as a broken bone in her left foot during summer workouts in July turned into a constant battle to get back on the court. At the core of the question: Was she hurried into action knowing all 15 scholarships for next season were spoken for with eight returning players and seven incoming recruits?
Bison head coach Maren Walseth said last week it was her decision not to bring the senior forward back for the 2016-17 season.
“I do feel like I was pushed to play this year before I was physically ready,” Johnson said. “I expressed concern to my coaches and the medical people that my foot didn’t feel right once it was weight bearing, and I just hoped the discomfort would subside with time.”
The discomfort never did subside, she said, so she sought a second opinion. Johnson and her parents, Greg and Susan, said they did not want to get into the specifics of their daughter’s medical care, but did confirm Holly had an initial surgery in early August and a second procedure last week.
“Knowing of my second opinion appointment, coach Walseth told me that she fully expected me to play in a Bison uniform this season,” Johnson said, “and if that was something I didn’t want or was uncomfortable with that she would help me find another place to play next season.”
Walseth, when contacted on Wednesday, refuted the claim of rushing her player to play, saying, “I am not a doctor, so I’m going on what our medical staff says, and I have to go on what our medical staff says, so, no, we did not push her to play this year.”
Johnson’s rehabilitation from the second surgery calls for six weeks on crutches and another six in a walking boot, but she says she’ll be ready to play next year-wherever it may be.
“I am humbled by the interest I have received from several schools,” Johnson said.
Johnson, a senior from Minot, already has her undergraduate degree after seven semesters in school and will be immediately eligible at any Division I program under the NCAA graduate transfer rule. Johnson said she felt like it didn’t help that she wasn’t recruited by Walseth, who is in her second year as Bison head coach.
“I feel like I almost got punished for getting my degree early,” she said. “She used it against me. You already got your degree, so we’re not going to continue to pay for your masters. It’s kind of how I felt.”
Said Walseth: “She has her thoughts on how it happened, but those are decisions that are made within the program, and I will keep those within our program like I would with any kid. It was a coaching decision.”
Johnson said she was never told by the Bison coaching staff or in a meeting with NDSU deputy director of athletics Todd Phelps that a scholarship wasn’t available next year. She said she would have considered playing as a walk-on. On the other hand, Johnson said Walseth did tell her there would not be a spot for her on the roster.
“(Walseth) did tell me that the day after she found out I was going to need a second corrective surgery,” Johnson said. “That was the first time that coach Walseth mentioned that for some reason I did not fit her mold.”
Johnson was voted as a team captain for this season. She’s been honored academically by the Summit League her first three years and was vice president of the NDSU Student-Athlete Advisory Council, a group that primarily focuses on community involvement.
Johnson questioned the communication of the coaching staff, saying she was unjustly casted in a negative light when Walseth said last week it was a “coach’s decision” not to bring her back. Johnson played as a true freshman and would have been eligible to either redshirt or take a medical hardship this year.
“She questioned my levels of consistency and support to the team, and so that is what I believe she meant by a coaching decision,” Johnson said. “Of course, I am human and have made mistakes, but I’ve invested almost four years into NDSU and specifically the women’s basketball program.”
Again, Walseth said, “the decision that was made was a coaching decision. Those are details I’m not going to share with anybody outside of our program like I would any kid.”
The 2012 North Dakota Miss Basketball from Minot, Johnson played in 86 career games starting the final 59 in her sophomore and junior seasons. That all changed with the ailing foot and what followed was a series of appointments, consultations, X-rays and conversations that turned her senior year into disarray.
“Communication from the coaches and from the medical staff was inconsistent and often times conflicting and frustrating,” Johnson said.
Her NDSU career is over, but not her basketball career, Johnson said.
“I want to thank everybody who has supported me at NDSU,” she said, “.... ultimately I want to finish my career at the Division I level, and I am interested in staying in the area.”