2018-19 Season Primer: Part VII
UMKC Athletics 7-19-2018
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The UMKC women’s basketball team released their 2018-19 schedule on Monday, a season that will be navigated by a team with 10 newcomers on the roster. Get to know the newest additions to the UMKC family, in addition to learning more about matchups in the upcoming season, with all 10 installments of the 2018-19 Season Primer. Part VII features incoming freshman Jonaie Johnson (Chicago, Ill.) and a December 6 road matchup at Missouri.

One of two players of the 2018 signing class hailing from Chicago, Ill., Jonaie Johnson hit the UMKC campus this summer looking to build on an impressive prep career resume. The 5 foot 7 guard was a central piece for Kenwood Academy team as a four-year team captain, earning All-Conference honors in all three seasons while earning Second Team All-State recognition in her senior campaign.

After arriving in Kansas City from the Windy City this summer, the transition to Division I hoops and the offseason training that comes with has gone well for Johnson.

“The transition from high school to the program here has been pretty smooth,” noted Johnson. “Summer workouts have been okay since I have made the adjustment. I have really enjoyed bonding with my teammates.”

Johnson, along with nine fellow members of the 2018 signing class, looks to further develop her abilities on the court to build on what was a tremendous first season for UMKC head coach Jacie Hoyt in 2017-18. Despite already possessing a strong basketball skill-set that will pay immediate dividends for the Roos, Johnson is working hard on continuing to grow.

“I feel I can make an immediate impact on the team with my defense, quickness and positive energy on the court. Right now, I’m focused most on improving my three-point shot.”

Improving the range on her jump shot would transform Johnson into an even more dynamic player that she already is. In her sophomore season, she led the team with 6.5 rebounds per game and earned All-City honors following the year. As a junior at Kenwood, Johnson posted averages of 11.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game on the season as she guided her team to a Sectional Semifinal appearance. Last year, Johnson improved to a team-best 16.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game as she filled up the stat sheet on a nightly basis. Her 496 points on the season set a single-season school record while etching her spot in Kenwood history as the first player to score 1,000 points (1,148) and 500 rebounds (600) for her career.

The success that UMKC achieves in the 2018-19 season is largely dependent upon the impact that Johnson and her fellow 2018 classmates can bring to the program in year one. While Johnson’s prep career lends a great deal of hope in that regard, individual growth and team cohesion will be paramount.

“The coaches have told me to take advantage of my speed and to have a more impactful first step by using my speed,” said Johnson regarding her development since arriving on campus. “I think we all need to accept and embrace our roles on the team. We need to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses more, so that we can challenge each other more in practice.”

How well the group of 10 newcomers mesh with one another along with the two returning Roos from last season will go a long way in establishing the narrative for the season ahead. The team will be put to the test with a challenging nonconference slate, which includes an in-state clash with Missouri.

Scouting the Tigers

The Roos continue play in December with a trip to Missouri slated on the schedule for Dec. 6. The nonconference battle will be the 14th meeting all-time between the two schools, with the Tigers holding a 12-1 series edge. UMKC’s last victory over Missouri came in 1991 where the Roos pulled out a 60-58 road win in Columbia.

Missouri enters the 2018-19 season coming off a 24-8 (11-5 SEC) campaign a season, the program’s third consecutive 20 win season, and an NCAA Tournament season for the third year in a row. Robin Pingeton has led the Tigers since 2010 and has compiled a record of 147-108 since taking over.

The Tigers return three starters in 2018-19 as they look to repeat similar success to a season ago. The team will look to replace the lost production from Cierra Porter and Jordan Frericks, who combined to make 62 starts and average 21.6 points on the year. The departures were the also leading rebounders on the Missouri squad last season, both averaging 7.6 rebounds per game. A major factor in last year’s success came from a +8.6 rebounding margin, but the loss of Porter and Frericks could give the Roos a chance to mitigate the strength.

Among the returning group, local product Sophie Cunningham will be the player that the Roos will need to hone in on. The 6 foot 1 senior guard has led the Tigers in scoring since her freshman season and has proven to be a multi-dimensional offensive threat. Last season, Cunningham averaged 18.5 points on 54.2% field goal, 45.7% three-point and 83.6% free throw shooting to pair with 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists as one of the top players in the Southeastern Conference.

A potential weakness to exploit in the December matchup is the turnover battle, an area that Missouri often struggled in a season ago. The Tigers held a -4.3 turnover margin a year ago while UMKC used a full-court pressure defense on many occasions to force 14.7 turnovers per game, fourth-best in the Western Athletic Conference.

Missouri signed a touted 2018 recruiting class that includes three freshman – Grace Berg, Brittany Garner and Akira Levy – who will look to make an impact in their first college season. Berg and Garner, both standing at 6 feet or taller, add significant length to a club that was relatively lacking in that department. Despite the additions, the tremendous length that the Roos brought aboard in their 2018 class will match up well with the Tigers squad.

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