Class 5A defending state champion Johnston picked up where it left off in the first game of the girls basketball season against Cedar Rapids Prairie.
The Dragons jumped out to an 18-0 lead and held the Hawks off the scoreboard for nearly five minutes. Prairie had just nine points at halftime, while Johnston climbed to an impressive 45-9 lead. The Dragons continued their dominance into the second half and picked up their first win, 69-24.
Johnston's Aili Tanke finished with a game-high 25 points, and freshman Jenica Lewis was second with 11. Asia Beale led the Hawks with 10 points.
"It was just fun being able to play a home game that really counted to our girls," Johnston coach Chad Jilek said. "We have a bunch of shooters and they all made shots from the beginning."
Was Jenica Lewis’ first (official) high school game everything people expected?
Lewis, a freshman at Johnston, had more than 20 Division I offers before she ever played a minute of high school basketball. So it wasn't a stretch to assume that she would fit right in with a powerful Johnston program that had just graduated a star in Jada Gyamfi (now at Iowa).
"I'm very happy and excited," Lewis said of playing her first high school game. "I've been waiting about three years but I enjoy the game a lot and I'm finally in high school."
Lewis did not disappoint.
After getting the jitters out in Johnston’s scrimmage against Roosevelt, she proved that years of playing against older competition have benefited her in the high school game. She had no trouble keeping pace with upperclassmen Monday. Lewis played like she’d been on the Dragons’ roster for years.
Oh, and her first high school points? A three-pointer, of course.
"I was kind of expecting it," Lewis said of her first points. "I work on threes a lot. At first I wasn't confident in my threes but eventually I did better."
How do you stop a Johnston team that is so efficient from all areas of the court?
Gyamfi was such a dominant player that it was natural to question whether Johnston could immediately continue its success from last year. But Lewis fills the void left by Gyamfi, and the Dragons have plenty of other talent to spread the wealth around.
Aaliyah Riley, Molly Noelck and Tanke are three dangerous players to have on the floor at the same time. Each brings a different skillset to the court, but they also complement each other's game well. When one is covered, there are four other options capable of making the play.
The Dragons made 3-pointers look easy, and they excelled in the paint. On the defensive side, Johnston picked off Prairie multiple times and converted those turnovers to points.
Sure, the Dragons ran past a team that doesn’t feature the same “big names” as Johnston. Prairie did not play poorly; Johnston just has so many options.
But the secret to Johnston’s success might not be the amount of talent the Dragons have but rather how well all the players work together.
That’s going to work in Johnston’s favor all year.
Alyssa Hertel is the college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Johnston girls basketball dominate in season opener against Prairie