COVINGTON, Ga. — There wasn’t a coach in the area, and arguably the entire state, that was more deserving of Coach of the Year status than Newton’s Tiffani Johnson.
In her 12th year, the Lady Rams coach, who was also a former Newton baller herself, led a senior-heavy group to achieve the girls’ program’s first region championship in five years. On top of that, Newton advanced through the Class AAAAAAA state tournament bracket to meet Westlake in the state championship game — a first for the program in 55 years.
In addition to winning Coach of the Year honors locally, the Atlanta Tip-Off Club named Johnson the Cremins Girls Coach of the Year for the entire state of Georgia. And though Johnson is always the one to deflect attention and defer accolades to her girls, she took a moment to acknowledge the good vibes associated with her awards.
“It does feel good to see that the girls, their work has gotten me some personal recognition,” Johnson said. “But it’s all because of the work they put in to it. And as coaches, we put in a lot of work too. So, yeah, it definitely feels good to have others recognize that.”
Newton finished with a 28-4 record and a 9-1 mark in Region 8-AAAAAAA. She saw players such as Lexii Chatman and Jurnee Smith get named to all-state, all-region and all-county rosters, not to mention Chatman’s inclusion in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Senior All-Star game.
Now the focus for Johnson is on getting her seniors signed to play college ball.
“We’ve been all over the place attending visits everywhere,” Johnson said. “We’ve traveled to South Carolina and all over Georgia, taking them to different places.”
And while the recruiting grind is tough for some, Johnson said the newfound attention for players like Chatman and Smith is welcomed.
“They are enjoying the stress that comes with making that college decision,” she said. “We’ve got more visits to make. Some scheduled for spring break still, so I assume within the next month or so we’ll see them ready to make a decision, and see what the future hold for them from there.”
As far as the returning Lady Rams go, Johnson believes the future is bright even if expectations perhaps have been raised.
“I don’t know if this all has necessarily given more confidence or if it’s more of just setting a standard for what it takes to get to where we got this year,” she said. “Now they know the hard work, dedication and focus needed to do this. And instead of trying to imbed that in them, they all ready have experienced it.”
It’ll be hard for Newton to mount an encore performance worthy of this season’s success. But Johnson’s squad has solid pieces returning next year with players such as guard Diamond Swift, along with Jada Franklin, Je-Naya Smith and Rachel Hilliard.
“With the expectation and standard already set, we should be able to come into the next season at a much different place now,” Johnson said. “The girls we have now are comfortable with the effort it takes to get back to that championship level. We don’t have to explain that. They know it and can act on it now from the beginning.”