Student-athletes come and go every two years at San Joaquin Delta College, but one thing remains the same every season for the women’s basketball program – a successful culture preached by head coach Gina Johnson.
Johnson, 47, has led the Lady Mustangs since 1996, has piled up a record of 471-168 while making 20 consecutive playoff appearances along with Five trips to the California Community College Athletics Association (CCCAA) Final Four.
“We call it our team culture and it’s a battle every year because we get kids from all different programs across the county … to buy into hard work, working harder than their comfortable, buying into the team concept and buying into working for the girl next to you and not just yourself and doing whatever for your teammates,” Johnson said. “Develop that unselfish behavior and traits like helping people off the ground when they fall, making sure you’re always there for each other, complimenting each other for a nice pass … they’re kind of interwoven and I think its developed over time because … I’ve been fortunate to have so many ex-players coaching with me now like Shaunna [Ridge] and Sam [Oelsner]. Having people around me that have been a part of that can reiterate why we’re here, why it’s important to be here.”
Assistant coach Sam Oelsner, 28, has witnessed Johnson’s philosophy first hand as a player (2005-2007) and as a coach (2012-present) and credits it to the Delta’s consistent success.
“[Johnson] sets the expectations and the bar so high. She does everything in her power to make sure that we’ve bought into the culture and that we’ve reached expectations. It’s really a formula for success,” Oelsner said. “She’s also never the same as far as X’s and O’s. She doesn’t do things exactly the same as she does the previous year because she understands that she has different players … so she figures out what’s going to work for us and our system and skill sets on the court. We buy into that culture and do what she’s asking of us every day and that’s why we win.”
This winning trend has led Delta College to 11 conference titles and a Sweet 16 appearance this season before being defeated by Fresno City College 68-56 on March 2, but you won’t hear Johnson brag about these achievements.
“We really stress academics. We want them to be successful. We have a 95 percent graduation rate. Kids are moving on. We’re not perfect … but we try to do our best to make these rules consistent about going to class doing what’s best for yourself and that’s important to be a good student first before athlete,” Johnson said. “Represent your family and be part of our family. I think it’s important for everyone to feel that they belong to something special.”
One such player that knows what it’s like to be a part of a special program before arriving at Delta College is sophomore guard Natalie Delgado, a product of high school powerhouse St. Mary’s.
“[Johnson] defiantly makes a point that everyone needs to buy into the culture and when everyone buys in, everything works,” Delgado said. “In our culture there’s trust as the foundation and then having communication and then our sixth man which is everyone being supportive of each other. I think it really helps to bring the energy and have everyone playing hard for each other on the court.”
Johnson attributes her steady flow of energy and passion for the program to the high level of support that is given from the Delta College athletic department and to the diverse types of students that join the team from all over the San Joaquin County and beyond, which makes her job more exciting.
“I just love getting kids in and working with them year around … we’re able to bring them into our classes and actually teach them skills and teach them a lot about life. I think some of my relationships with former players are so important to me,” Johnson said. “I have this extended family and kids that move on, but they still stay in touch. I have two sons, but I always tell the girls they’re my daughters. I have all these daughters in life so I can celebrate their success after they leave here.”