A coach, a friend and an inspiration: Remembering Noel Johnson

By: Cory Hogue, LoneStarSportsDaily.com

Her fight is finished.

She went out the same way she lived her life – as a fighter and a winner.

Noel Johnson died on Tuesday morning after a 14-month battle against Stage IV Ovarian Cancer at the young age of 47.

She was the embodiment of success at everything she did throughout her life.

Photo Courtesy

Noel was a state champion at Nazareth, national champion with Texas Tech, an incredible head coach at Midwestern State University, a member of the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame and Southwest Conference Hall of Fame.

She led the Mustangs to the NCAA Division II South Central Regionals on three separate occasions and won the Lone Star Conference title in 2013 and finished as the winningest coach in MSU women’s basketball history.

As a coach, Noel often referred to her playing days with the Swiftettes when discussing offensive concepts and always smiled when discussing her former Red Raiders coaches and teammates.

Noel was a fantastic player and coach, but she was also much more. She was a friend and inspiration.

She was also a model of how to face what seemed impossible. She knew the odds were not in her favor against Ovarian Cancer but that never stopped her from raising awareness or fighting.

I watched as she coached her final season for the Mustangs this year in amazement. She never allowed cancer to win and she constantly maintained the high energy and enthusiasm she had always coached with over the years.

The Texas Woman’s University basketball team presented Johnson with this sign during the 2019-2020 season.

That is not to say this last season was easy for her. The exhaustion after each game was apparent but she always made time for three things – quotes, a check on how I was doing and a hug.

The most important to me was always the hug. The most meaningful was how she always genuinely cared about others including this small-time sportswriter.

Last September, I sat down with Noel for an article I was writing for the Times Record News. In true Noel style, she focused the conversation on raising awareness for Ovarian Cancer and how she was inspired by others instead of allowing the focus to be on her.

She educated me on how there is not a test designed specifically for the detection of Ovarian Cancer and how the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer are often mistaken for other diagnoses.

“We chalked my (symptoms) up to the stress of the season,” she told me during that conversation and followed with advice for other women, “Be aggressive if you are having symptoms and ask your doctor what the symptoms are from. Always err on the side of caution and request certain tests.”

Noel was a true fighter and that spirit showed on the final home game of the 2019-2020 season. She was recovering from treatment but she refused to miss Senior Day.

She made sure to walk to mid-court and honor each senior on the Mustangs men’s and women’s basketball team. Noel then remained on the court for photos.

That was the last day I, and many others were able to see Noel as the COVID-19 pandemic hit soon after.

That was also my last hug with Noel.

Photo Courtesy

The legacy of Noel Johnson will naturally cover her many achievements in the game of basketball, but her most important legacy will be in the awareness she raised for Ovarian Cancer.

Her story and battle inspired many women to get tested for Ovarian Cancer.

My heart breaks for Reagan Foster, who’s bond and commitment to Noel never changed, Noel’s family and the many people Noel touched including her former teammates, players, and fellow coaches.

The world lost a fighter, a mentor, a friend, and the strongest person I have ever met.

Rest in peace my friend, you will be missed.

#NoelStrong

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