A Chat with Coach Johnston


Editor’s Note: The Collegian sat down with SDSU women’s basketball coach Aaron Johnston this week to talk about all things regarding his program, including his third Summit League Championship, point guard play next year, and the upcoming season.

Looking back now, how do you view that run you made at the end of the season and winning a third Summit League Championship?

It was really meaningful. Sometimes things throughout the year don’t go as easily as you would like or fall into place and this year’s team had some adversity. They were really able to find their stride and come together as a team and play some good basketball in February and March, so maybe it was a different path to get there but it ended up being the same great result.

What does the continued trips to the NCAA Tournament do for the notoriety of women’s basketball team at SDSU on a national level?

It just really validates your program as being a successful program, as opposed to having one good recruiting class. You look at Butler on the men’s side, they’ve been to two Final Fours, two National Championship games and it changes things. Now instead of Cinderella story, they’re a legitimate contender. We’re not at that point yet, in terms as Final Fours, but in terms of being a very competitive women’s basketball program in the Midwest. Being in the NCAA Tournament three years in a row really establishes that and that’s what so exciting about it and it just really helps move our program forward.

With more and more success each year, your name pops up as a replacement for other coaching jobs. How do you deal with those rumors and speculation?

One, I never really talk about job searches publicly, ever. That’s not to dispel rumors or confirm rumors. I just don’t ever really talk about and I don’t really think that there’s a place for those things in the media or in speculation. If there’s ever something that’s going to change, then there’s reason to talk about it. Until that point, I don’t really feel that it should be something that is public. Since I’ve been at SDSU, I’ve been approached by different places and none of them have really been public other than probably Green Bay. I would much rather prefer to always handle those situations in that way. I think that is important for our program, for the other program and that’s the way I would like to keep doing that. I think the fact that I’m still here and still enjoy it, says how much a lot about how much I like being here at SDSU. It’s a great place for my family, a great place for me professionally, it’s a place that is really invested in women’s basketball and made women’s basketball a priority. Those are the kinds of things that you look for in a good job and that’s why I enjoy being here.

You lose three seniors who have had tremendous success that has never been matched in school history. How will you deal with the graduation of those players?

I think that is a really good question. For me, it’s graduating Macie [Michelson], Jennifer [Schuttloffel], and Kristin [Rotert] but it’s also kind of the last of a three-year run of great players going back to Jenn Warkenthien, Stacie Oistad, Morgan Meier, Ashlea Muckenhirn and when they were seniors here and won 32 games here. Last year, we had Ketty [Cornemann] and Maria [Boever], a couple of thousand-point scorers. That’s a whole team right there. Now as we look to the future, we’ve had a lot of good role players who’ve been freshman and sophomores last year and this year and now as juniors and seniors are going to have to become the Kristin Rotert’s, the Ketty Cornemann’s, Maria Boever’s. Nobody’s really done that yet and they haven’t had to because they’ve always had those good seniors above them. Everyone’s going to have to change their mentality, not just because we lost this year’s three seniors but because the last three years, we’ve lost such great, talented players. We’re kind of changing the guard here and we’re really going to have to develop these players in the offseason and change how they approach it as well.

Of your signed recruits and incoming freshman, what can we look forward to see from those players in the future?

We really address some things that we’re going to be losing. Rachel Walters is another great shooter, similar to a Kristin Rotert, who has some size out on the perimeter. We don’t expect her to be Kristin but she plays a similar position at times. Mariah Clarin is just another really strong, athletic forward, who can hopefully fill in and add what Jennifer Schuttloffel did, what Maria Boever did, that kind of player. Megan Stuart is that kind of long, athletic wing player that can play a three or a four. We added three players that fit into those categories of players that we lost in the last couple of years and did their job to carry the load but they all fit those spots in our system.

The point guard position seems to point of uncertainty for many who follow the program? What are your early plans for that position?

I don’t mind saying it but it is a question mark because Macie’s been there for three years. Before she came in it was Andrea Verdegan and before that you had Heather Sieler who could it, so there was always that person who you knew you could give the ball to. This year’s team still has players who need to develop. I think Tara Heiser is a great candidate. I think Steph Paluch is a great candidate. Gabby Boever comes back next year after her redshirt year as a good candidate. Jill Young can do it; she’s one we would prefer not use there as much because I think she’s better at that off-guard spot but I know she can give us good minutes at that position. And there’s still a chance that we could add somebody who can help us at that position. We’ve got a lot of really good players there, we really do. It’s just really different because nobody’s seen these players be the starting point guard and until somebody’s done that and they can prove they can do that, it’s a question mark.

How are both Megan Waytashek and Gabby Boever coming along in the rehab of their injuries?

Gabby is 100 percent. She’s cleared now to do live, competitive things and she’s done that this spring. We haven’t gone five-on-five as a team since the season has ended. Next week, will be the first time that they will run up and down, playing five-on-five. She’s looked good and healthy. She’s a little rusty but healthy. Megan is actually rehabbing very well and is right on schedule. She’s not to the point where she’s able to run or cut but she’s getting close to that and we hope by the end of May and June, she’s able to do that and hopefully she’ll be able to do that.

Do you have any of your non-conference schedule finalized? I know you have the trip to Cancun on the schedule but do you have some of the other games set?

We have some contracted things but we’re just not ready to announce every thing. We have Kansas State, Washington State, Utah State, all coming back to Frost Arena. As of now, we hope to have something worked out with Marquette and a home and home. We go to Middle Tennessee and we go to Arkansas-Little Rock. We’re basically waiting on one contract that needs to be signed on the other end, so we’re almost done with it actually.

Finally, I would guess you are looking forward to next year. What has you excited about next year’s team?

It’s good and it’s bad. It’s tough because we’ve lost so many good players the last three years and we’ve really finally turned over a whole team of talented players. That’s a challenge because you still have question marks with players that still need to take a step forward. But that’s the exciting part. We’ll have good role players, who will have to evolve as they start to look around and don’t see some of those great seniors. I’m really excited to see those kids evolve into really great players.