Women’s basketball head coach Noel Johnson has passed away Tuesday, June 9 following her 14-month battle with stage four ovarian cancer.
Johnson begin her fight to defeat the disease on April 19, 2019, starting with the first of six rounds of chemotherapy. Throughout her journey, constant and consistent messages of love and support poured in as she suited up to tackle this obstacle.
Johnson spent 12 years as head coach of the Mustangs, and she was crowned MSU women’s basketball ‘most winningest coach’ after overcoming Texas A&M Kingsville 72-66 Dec. 19, 2017. During her tenure at MSU, her team accomplished four Lone Star Conference quarterfinal appearances, two appearances at NCAA II South Central Quarterfinals (4th, 2013-2014 season, 2nd, 2014-2015 season), and won the NCAA II South Central Quarterfinals during the 2012-2013 season.
Prior to her leadership at MSU Texas, Johnson was the assistant coach at Texas State from 1998 to 2007 and assistant coach at North Texas from 2007 to 2008.
During her collegiate career at Texas Tech University, Johnson appeared in four NCAA Sweet 16 Tournaments. In 1993, she helped the Lady Raiders to a National Championship. According to NCAA, Johnson remains one of the most accurate 3-point shooters in Texas Tech University women’s basketball history and she was known for her “hard-nosed intensity on the court” and “earned her the nickname ‘Ice’.”
The Wichitan asked current and previous players and coaches how Coach J impacted their lives.
Chris Reay, current assistant coach
“Coach J is the most influential person I have had the privilege to know. Working for her the past 10 years has been a true blessing. Starting out she was my mentor, but became one of my best friends and eventually my family. She embodied everything you would want a coach to be. She was highly competitive in all aspects of her life. She led with the compassion to help her players, staff, friends, and colleagues be the best people they can be. Her loyalty was unquestioned and her desire to make those who played for her the best people they could was unmatched. These words are just a glimpse to how truly amazing she was. It was truly an honor to be around her.
My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends, teammates, and players. Coach J was a true treasure and will be missed but her Legacy will never fade. #NoelStrong.”
Shatoia Gober, 2011-2015, current graduate assistant
“All the moments and times I’ve spent with Coach J as a player, person and coach, I’ve learned something. She helped shape me into the woman I am and instilled confidence and faith within me.
She made me mentally tough, and that has taken me so far in my life as we speak, and I probably wouldn’t have thanked her when I was going through it, but as I sit and think about where I’ve been and where I am at, there’s not enough to repay her for making my life and I’m forever thankful I met her.”
Avery Queen, 2016-2017
“Noel will always hold a special place in my heart. Before I came to MSU, I was ready to quit playing basketball, but Noel called me and texted me almost every day for a week begging me to come and give MSU a chance. She flew me from Denver to Wichita Falls and treated me so well. I was hesitant at first because I knew just from talking to her on the phone that she was someone I wanted to play for. The weekend I spent at MSU and the conversations we had together was something I will never forget. She made me feel so special, not just as a basketball player but as a person, and that’s one thing I really struggled with playing [division one].
In D1 sports you are just another jersey number on a roster. Noel made me feel like everything but that. She cared for me like a mother would: always checking on me, wanting to hear about my day, asking how school was going. She didn’t care about me just in basketball; she cared about my entire life. I think that’s something really special. She didn’t give up on me and she wouldn’t let me give up on myself. She welcomed me to the team with open arms, and I will never forget how important of a person and a player she made me feel. She was always there to help, she was an open door, she was a shoulder to cry on, she was an advice-giver, she was a mother, she was a coach. She was my coach. I think about how different my life would be if I didn’t answer her calls or take her up on a visit, and I will forever be grateful to her for investing in me the way she did. Noel is the most loving and caring person I’ve ever met, and I’m so blessed for the opportunity she gave me to call her coach.”
McKenna Villegas, 2015-17
“When I hear Coach J’s name, I am reminded of one of the strongest and most influential forces I have ever encountered in my time on this earth. She displays a certain presence that is felt the moment she steps into the room. She has the knowledge and skill to teach you for a lifetime. The power and ability to make you believe in yourself and others, and a heart big enough to create a home away from home and love every player like a child of her own.
She is the reason many of us are where we are today. I had only met Coach J once before signing to Midwestern State, but I knew this was who I wanted to play for. My parents trusted her, I trusted her, and she trusted me. From the moment I stepped onto campus, Coach J began to peel back my layers and shape me into the person that stands here today. My time as a player and student was never easy, but Coach J was a guiding light when the times became rough. There were days where I sat in her office for hours to express my worries and troubles and believed there was no way out. She listened to every word and managed to help me get back on my feet each time. Coach J believed in me, even on the days where I had lost hope and couldn’t believe in myself. My trust in her judgment was never questioned and I always left feeling as if I was enough. I can remember passing a fitness test during a grueling preseason workout and immediately falling to the ground while bursting into tears. Coach J ran to my side and screamed the words “I knew you could do it! You can do anything!” Those words stuck and her belief in me was the driving force for the remainder of my collegiate career. As I walked across the stage and saw Coach J at the graduation ceremony, she raised her arms and greeted me with one of her famous hugs. She said those words once more and she was right. I had made it. Despite the ups and downs over those 4 years, Coach J never gave up on me and I had accomplished one of my top goals. Her persistence, compassion and integrity beyond the game of basketball were unmatched. Aside from the wins and losses, Coach J has left an everlasting impact on my life, and I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if it were not for her. Life has recently given us many obstacles but Coach J has embraced them all and handled everything in the best way she could. There will never be enough time or words to express how thankful I am for her and what she has done for me during our time. I can only continue to show my gratitude by embracing the legacy Coach J has created and by spreading the lessons I have learned to those around me.”
Cierra Thompson, 2008-2012
I guess I’ll start with: I feel blessed to have been able to play under such fierce leadership. Her passion for the game is contagious. It’s part of the reason I continue to live my life with such passion today. I left MSU to explore, knowing I can do anything I set my mind to. She was my mom away from home in some ways, making sure I stayed on track with school and my health .How she kept track of all of us I have no idea. She lead by example on and off the court. Sometimes when life gets hard I think back to practices with coach J, and I know I am capable of doing more than I realize. When things are dark and hard I know I’ll make it out okay. Coach taught me how to tap into this inner strength that can carry me through everything life brings my way. While I was recruited by a different head coach , I am grateful I got to play for Coach J. If I could play for Coach again I would do so in a heartbeat.
There is so much more I could say about Coach, but it’s really hard to put into words. I am grateful for her big heart , her contagious passion for the game, and the inner strength I cultivated from playing ball for coach as a Mustang.
Taylor Boaz (née Dowd), 2011-2015
Ever since I was in middle school, I dreamed of playing college basketball. Being from a small town, I knew that was a long shot. I joined a select team that had opened the door for me to be seen by Coach J. She and the rest of the coaching staff had asked if I would like to come for a tryout to possibly join the MSU Lady Mustangs; I was ecstatic.
Meeting Coach J felt so right. I kept thinking how happy I would be if I could play under the dome for her. After the tryout, she offered me a position on the team and my dream came true. I can’t ever thank her enough for making my dream come true of plying college basketball.
One thing that Coach J did to shape me into the person I am today is this quote. “Know your role and to do it well.” Give it your all. Work hard each and every day. That is something I’ll never forget. Being proud about what you bring to the table and being the very best you can be for your teammates and for yourself. I carry that with me daily now. I learned how important that is in not just basketball, but in teaching, coaching and every day life.
Coach J is definitely one of the most influential women in my life. I think of her daily and remember every hardship and lesson she taught me. I love you Coach J!
Skyler Warwick, 2010-2014
Inside Coach J’s office, there is a futon. The amount of time I spent in her office, sitting on that futon, with Coach J is immeasurable. It was so comforting, to me, to be in her presence. It started with spending my lunch between classes in her office with Kirsti. We’d go there to eat and talk about practice, classes, food or even just life.
There’d be mornings I would plant myself on the futon and we would just sit in comfortable silence. She’d be planning practice, watching film, researching the latest recruits, while I was sitting there reading, preparing for my next class or even dosing off. There were times I’d wake up in a dark office, alone, with a blanket draped over me. That is Coach J. Taking care of us off of the court probably more so than on it. That setting is where we had some of our funniest and also heaviest conversations.
She helped send me down the career path I wanted, and not the one everyone thought I should take. I remember being six months post-graduation and she turned and looked at me and said, “Skypunch, how do we get you where you want to be?” That moment is something that has stuck with me. There never seemed to be any obstacle Coach J couldn’t overcome with sheer will and work ethic. She told me to get up off the futon, sat me down at her desk, locked me in her office, and told me to come out when I had finished applying to film school. She never doubted, never threw what-ifs into the mix, never questioned why I wanted what I wanted. She simply wanted to help me be the best I could be and to fulfill my dreams.
If there was ever a step I was scared to take, she was the guiding hand on my back, pushing me outside of my comfort zone and into the unknown. She is one of the strongest female role-models I’ve ever had, and she has shaped me into the woman I am becoming. If I can have an ounce of that sheer will and work ethic, then I know I can do anything like Coach J. I often think back on my time in Coach J’s office. When life throws its obstacles my way, I picture myself sitting on that futon and think, “How do we get you where you want to be?”
Early in Johnson’s diagnosis, Warrick was invited by Carrie Underwood to join her on stage. Underwood spoke about Johnson’s battle with cancer and performed ‘The Champion’ as a tribute while Warrick rapped the Ludacris part of the song. See below for the performance.
A dream come true having @carrieunderwood help me honor Coach J. This was one of the most nerve racking things I’ve ever done, but it was all for Coach J. Thank you Christine for keeping me calm and focused. Thank you Carrie for your encouragement on stage. Y’all are amazing!💜 pic.twitter.com/AonY7OWjqm
— Skyler Warrick (@SKYwarrick_) September 16, 2019
Many journalists who have been apart of The Wichitan had the honor of interviewing Coach J. Every time, we were met with kindness – even if the game didn’t go according to plan. The Wichitan staff send our deepest condolences to family and friends of Coach J.
For those wanting to celebrate the life of Noel Johnson, a service will be held June 20 at 1 p.m. at the D.L. Ligon Coliseum.