There is a reason the word "student," comes first in "student-athlete." Whitman junior guard Heather Johns is the quintessential illustration of what it means to be a student-athlete.
As the West Region and Northwest Conference Player of the Year, Johns came to Stevens Point as the top scorer in the national semifinals averaging 19.1 points per game. Additionally she I grabbing 6.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game, and shooting .469 from the field. Johns has been the key component to the Missionaries best season in school history as they are forty minutes away from a national title.
"She's our MVP," stated teammate Meghan White, "When she drives, I know there is a really good chance she is going to score. I'm just glad I don't have to guard her and she's on my team."
Along with the top scoring average of all players in Stevens Point this weekend, Johns also leads in another average - grade point average. She holds a 3.90 GPA in a major that takes longer to say than it does for Johns to explode to the basket - Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology.
"It's one of the tougher majors in the school," Johns stated.
"No, it IS the toughest," teammate Tiffani Traver confirmed.
Johns received the NCAA Elite 89 Award during Thursday's banquet. The Elite 89, an award founded by the NCAA, recognizes the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers. The Elite 89 is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA's championships.
"I'm very honored to receive that award, it means a lot to me," Johns continued, "I'm very serious about being a student as well as an athlete. It's really cool to be recognized for the work I put in and also really cool to bring that home to Whitman, because we are such an academically vigorously school. Everyone on our team works really hard so I think that is a representation of everyone."
A 3.90 GPA is no simple task for anyone. But acknowledging the difficulty of her major, playing intercollegiate athletics on a championship-caliber team, and being named Conference and Regional Player of the Year speaks volumes of Johns work ethic and time management.
"A huge part of the academic success is due to the balance Whitman makes for us. The professors are great about taking tests on the road, or early, and doing whatever they need to do to work with us while we're gone."
The hard work doesn't end in the classroom. The second-leading scorer among players in the national semi-finals, teammate Sarah Anderegg, shared her admiration for Johns after last night's victory.
"She's not just good because she's good," Anderegg continued, "She's good because she puts in so much time and so much hard work and that's really something I admire about her."
In the national semi-finals on Friday night, Johns went for a career high 33 points, along with six boards, three, assists, and four steals. After starting out 1-of-6 shooting in the first 13 minutes, Johns finished the day 11-of-16 from the field, including 3-of-5 from three-point range.
"I had a rough start, I missed a couple of my first shots," Johns commented, "my teammates always do a great job of picking me up, they kept saying 'keep shooting, they're going to fall'". And they did fall as Johns lifted the Missionaries to their first national championship game with an 85-70 victory over Whitewater.
The Missionaries started the season 26-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation before falling to Whitworth in the NWC Championship game. Since then, they have rebounded by defeating five straight ranked teams by an average margin of nearly 15 points.
"The loss taught us a lot," said Traver, "it showed us all the little things we needed to fix. It made us reevaluate and put things into perspective."
Across the floor tonight is an undefeated team in FDU-Florham also seeking their first national championship.
"It was our goal since last year to make it to the national semifinals," said Johns, "just get to Wisconsin."
Now in Wisconsin, Johns is just minutes away from tipping off in the national championship game and an opportunity to bring home more hardware to Whitman College.