Each season, Gatorade recognizes one student-athlete from each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. who embodies its Player of the Year program’s three pillars: athletic production, academic achievement and exemplary character.
Each week during its Gatorade State Player of the Year selection process, USA TODAY surfaces one candidate who meets those criteria and deserves recognition as a serious Gatorade State Player of the Year contender.
Name: McKenzie Johnston
School: Capital (Helena, Mont.)
Sport: Girls basketball
Athletic Production: Family ties count for plenty, but sometimes so to friendly family rivalries. With McKenzie’s sister, Jordan, already a forward at Helena’s Carroll College in the Johnston’s backyard, the hometown Carroll coaching staff had to be confident in their recruiting pursuit of nearby Capital High’s 5-foot-7 All-State point guard.
Instead, the elder Johnston’s Saints squad may have to square off with McKenzie at the University of Montana in 2015-16, according to an NBC Montana report announcing her commitment to the Lady Griz.
“I was down to these two schools and I really loved (Carroll College head coach) Rachelle (Sayers) and everything that she’s done for me,” McKenzie told the local TV station upon announcing her decision. “With my sister playing here, I realized she’d only be here for one year if I came here. When I’m a freshman, they’ll probably be coming to play against us, and I thought that would be pretty cool too.”
Before that, though, the younger Johnston is gunning for a state championship following a heartbreaking one-point overtime loss in the Class AA state semifinals last season. For the second straight year, she leads Montana’s highest classification in assists (5.5 per game in 2014-15), guiding the Bruins (13-2) to an 8-0 record in the Western Conference. She has also collected 14.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 steals per contest entering the final month of her senior prep season.
Academic Achievement: Johnston has maintained a 4.0 GPA and is expected to graduate as Capital High’s senior class valedictorian.
Exemplary Character: In addition to donating her time as a youth basketball, volleyball and softball instructor, Johnston has volunteered locally as an elementary school teaching assistant and as part of multiple community-service initiatives in association with her church.