Holly Nicklaus and Brianna Richardson are together again.
While Nicklaus played her high school ball at Dixon, and Richardson at Newman, the two were traveling team teammates on the Sauk Valley Crusaders during high school. They're back together with the Sauk Valley Community College Skyhawks.
Nicklaus is just one of two returning sophomores for Sauk, which enjoyed a 21-9 campaign a year ago when it was led by all-everything Shamika Williams, who is now at the NCAA Division II University of Tampa (Fla.). Lydia Box of Rockford is the other returner.
Williams was fifth in the country at the Division I junior college level, averaging 13.3 rebounds per game. She was also 15th in scoring (18.7 points per game) and 19th in assists (5.7 per game).
Also not in the mix is 2012 Sterling High School graduate and Sauk Valley Media player of the year Aleena Hammelman. She originally planned on attending Kishwaukee before switching to Sauk, but is not playing because of personal reasons, according to Johnson.
Nicklaus was a part-time starter last season. Johnson expects more this season.
"We look for both Holly and Lydia to have big years this year," Johnson said. "They probably have a little heavier load on their shoulders. We're going to need more scoring out of both of them."
"I'm so stoked about the season," Nicklaus said. "Last year I was nervous. This season is going to go really well for us."
Nicklaus is a versatile 6-footer who can go inside and outside, handle the ball, pass and block shots.
"My brother Seth taught me a lot, so did my dad [Brett]," she said. "I'm almost 6-foot, and I can play point guard. Not a lot of people see that, and not a lot of people see me as an outside shooter. That's my upper hand. I love playing anything but the five [center]. That scares me."
Richardson, who attended Benedictine University in Lisle her freshman year, will be in Johnson's starting lineup, which has freshman Kayla Barlow of Rockford at the point guard, Box at shooting guard, Nicklaus at small forward, Richardson at power forward and Arlicia Turner of Georgia at center.
Richardson, who is from Rock Falls, made the move to Sauk for non-basketball reasons.
"It was more about academics," she said. "I decided to switch into the nursing program, and Sauk has an excellent nursing program. So, I decided to come back home and save money. It's just a better opportunity for me, and basketball was a huge bonus."
The Skyhawks have just 10 players on the roster, limiting their practice options.
"I don't do a whole lot of scrimmaging," Johnson said. "I'm a little scared of it."
Johnson has liked what's he seen from his team thus far.
"It's been a little scary how well we've played in the preseason," he said. "I don't want to peak too early."