'Step up my game': Johnson ready for new challenges at Pima Community College

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times
Aiona Johnson (second from left) is pictured with her family after signing on to play women's basketball and attend Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona

FARMINGTON — Aiona Johnson, one of the star players on last season's Class 3A state champion Navajo Prep Lady Eagles basketball team, has signed on to play basketball and attend Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona this fall.

Johnson was one of three starters on last season's Lady Eagles team that won the New Mexico Activities Association Class 3A girls basketball title for the second straight year, culminating their most recent season with a 63-47 romp over Las Vegas Robertson.

Johnson, a 5-foot, 8-inch guard, is excited for the challenges that lie ahead for herself and for Pima Community College, also coming off a solid season last spring when they won the National Junior College Athletic Association's Division 2 Southwest District Championship.

More:Navajo Prep girls basketball trio earns 3A All-State First Team honors

"I'm definitely going to have to step up my game," Johnson said this week from her home in Shiprock. "They'll have taller guards for me to compete against, and they'll have more speed as well, so I'm looking forward to that."

Johnson thanked her former coach, Rainy Crisp, for helping her achieve all the success she and her teammates had at Navajo Prep the past couple seasons.

Crisp, after her high school playing days at Navajo Prep came to an end in 1998 as one of the most decorated female athletes in the state, played basketball at Arizona State University where she helped the Sun Devils to a school-record four postseason appearances, including a share of the 2001 Pac-10 Championship, the 2002 Pac-10 Tournament Championship and ASU's first back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 19 years.

"(Crisp) has such a high basketball IQ," Johnson said. "I learned to trust her and myself because of the experience she had." 

Navajo Prep is coming off an incredible run of success the past two seasons, in which they won 42 combined games. Prior to the 2021 championship victory over Las Vegas Robertson, the Lady Eagles also took home the blue trophy when they defeated Tohatchi 43-33 in front of a packed house at the Pit in Albuquerque.

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Aiona Johnson prepares to make a pass down the court in the Pit at Albuquerque in Navajo Prep's NMAA state title victory over Robertson High on May 7.

"Those were the best experiences of my life," Johnson said. "Playing at the Pit was so intense. Winning there and playing there definitely taught me a lot."

Johnson hopes the experience she gained and what she learned from her high school coaches will help her excel at the next level.

"They have a really good program there (Pima CC)," Johnson said. "It's a new environment that will have plenty of challenges for me."

The Lady Aztecs are coached by Todd Holthaus, who has won nearly 300 games in that position. Prior to joining Pima, Holthaus was an assistant coach at the University of Arizona on their women's basketball squad. Holthaus has been named NJCAA District A Coach of the Year six times.

"It's a really good thing from being able to go from one coach who's been so successful into another program that pushes itself to win," Johnson said. 

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.