On Feb. 4, Lewis & Clark’s Women’s Basketball team played their 21st game of the season against rival University of Puget Sound, where the lead went back-and-forth throughout the entire first half. The court was full of nervous, yet excited, energy. During this game, Delsie Johnson ’22 had the opportunity to reach 1,000 career points and 600 rebounds — a milestone that would place her in the top three in both categories in school history.
When Johnson stepped up to make two free throws early in the second half, she would reach her 1,000th career point if she made both shots. Any free throw is nerve racking, but Johnson handled both shots with composure. She dribbled the ball a few times, took a breath and nailed both free throws. What had previously been nervous energy exploded into a celebration of joy from the stands, court and bench. She did it, 1,000 points.
Johnson’s journey to become a collegiate basketball player had been a long time in the making. The biology major from Fort Collins, Colorado has been playing basketball for as long as she can remember, beginning in a recreational league when she was about five years old. Her ties to basketball extend back to her mother who played Division 1 basketball for the University of Vermont. Throughout Johnson’s basketball career, her mother has remained by her side, and even flew in to hold up a sign celebrating her 1,000th point. Johnson ultimately found herself at LC because the team and coaches were so supportive.
Being on the basketball team has meant a lot to Johnson. She experienced playing basketball at LC as not just being a member of a sports team, but being a part of a family.
“I consider the basketball team like my family, and that’s one of our values,” Johnson said. “Everyday I look forward to going to practice, seeing my team, seeing my coaches and then playing games. It’s just been amazing.”
However, it is not just Johnson that feels this sense of closeness. In fact, both of her coaches attribute it partly to Johnson, due to her ability to lead and be a great teammate. These two qualities help make the team into the family that Johnson describes. Johnson’s coaches greatly appreciate her both as a player and a person.
Head Women’s Basketball Coach Ann Dorris explained how Johnson is able to create that sense of community on and off the court.
“She is really good at motivating her teammates,” Dorris said. “Even off the court as well. It’s never negative, it’s never condescending, or anything of that sort. And that’s what she is just really, really good at.”
Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach Scott Pisapia has had the opportunity to watch Johnson play since she was a freshman.
“Having Delsie in the program for the past four years has been a huge sense of stability,” Pisapia said.
From a statistical standpoint, Johnson’s 1,000-point and 600-rebound milestone is significant. Few players are able to reach 1,000 points in their basketball careers, let alone in only 3 seasons like Johnson was able to do. Due to COVID-19, Johnson’s junior season was canceled. However, she did not let that setback stop her. In fact, Johnson averaged 14.4 points per game and 9 rebounds per game throughout her time at LC, which are 3rd and 2nd greatest of all time, respectively. Of her 1,044 career points, Johnson’s field goal percentage was 48.8%. She has been nominated for and received numerous awards during her basketball career. Most recently, Johnson was named to the All-Northwest Conference First Team as LC’s first recipient since 2017. In previous years, she was named the Northwest Conference Freshman of the Year and Awarded the Female Rookie of the Year Award at the 2019 Excellence in Lewis & Clark’s Year of Sports.
Due to her history of great play, it seemed that no one was surprised when Johnson reached her milestone. Pisapia said this moment filled him with a sense of pride.
“She’s gonna end up somewhere in the top three for Lewis & Clark history in points and rebounds per game for her career,” Pisapia said. “So we’re looking at a player that doesn’t come around often. This is a once in a decade type player, once in an even 20-year span type player.”
In the Puget Sound game, there was a shared, confident feeling among the coaches and team that Johnson would score the 20 points and 6 rebounds that she needed. At the end of the first half, Johnson had already scored 18 points and 5 rebounds. When it came the time to reach the milestone, she was ready.
“It was on a free throw, so I had two free throws to get to 1,000,” Johnson said. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going to be embarrassing if I miss these free throws.’ When I hit the second one, I thought ‘there it is. 1,000. Let’s go.’”
Johnson’s coaches shared the same feelings of joy, including Pisapia who said that the moment made him choke up.
“You love to see someone who has put in so much time and effort, and is just a rock solid person inside and out, you love to see them find success,” Pisapia said. “But the even cooler part, to me, was how excited her teammates were for her to reach that goal. And that’s the part that probably got me a little more choked up. It shows how loved she is by how the school celebrated her when she got that mark.”
After the point was over, her teammates stood up from the bench and swallowed Johnson into a communal hug, while the stadium exploded into a raucous cheer. The student section was deafening, and Johnson’s smile spread throughout the stadium.
Moving forward, Johnson plans to continue playing for the rest of the season, graduate and leave her basketball days behind her. Despite being deprived of her junior season, Johnson does not plan to utilize the NCAA’s added year of eligibility granted to athletes who missed a collegiate season due to COVID-19. However, that is not to say that she will stop impacting the lives of those around her. Coach Dorris described how Johnson is not only someone who should be respected for her basketball skills, but for the person she is.
“She’s above and beyond in every category and what’s really special to me about that is that she is so committed to basketball and works so hard at it and at the exact same time has that same level of commitment to being a great teammate, to being a great friend, to being a great student,” Dorris said. “She is so passionate about everything and it’s so genuine and with the best intentions always. That’s something you don’t see a lot. She’s a special one for sure.”
Not only does she excel on the court, but in every space she fills. In the words of Pisapia, “Delsie is a rockstar and a Pio legend.”