ANDREW JANSEN/JOURNAL Kara Johnson, Principia, drives to the net against Caroline Militello, MICDS, in their 51-38 win over the Rams.

Kara Johnson is so mean she makes a hungry rattlesnake look cuddly. Johnson is so mean Chuck Norris asks her for tips. Johnson is so mean you shouldn’t look her directly in the eyes or you will spontaneously combust. Well, at least that’s how she is on the court.

Johnson, a senior post for the Principia girls’ basketball team, plays the game with a competitive chip on her shoulder that might as well be a boulder. At 5-foot-10, the 18-yearold Johnson is a tad undersized to make her hay under the basket. But that’s exactly what she has done in her three seasons for the Panthers.

As of press time, the Panthers were 17-3 overall and 6-0 in Metro Leauge play, good enough for first place. Johnson has been a significant force in the team’s success as she’s averaging 16 points and seven rebounds per game.

And yes, she provides Principia with some toughness on the court. Johnson never thought of herself as ‘mean’ until she stumbled upon an opponent’s scouting report last year and it labeled her as such. “You have to have that,” Johnson says of her edge. “It’s just how I am. I have to get after it and I have to win. I get real competitive.”

That competitive fire has helped push Johnson and the Panthers to new heights this season. A McKendree University recruit, Johnson and her Principia teammates are dreaming of ending their season in Columbia at the Class 3 state semifinals and taking their shot at the title. Getting there, though, is easier said than done. Johnson is well aware of why she’s in the gym day after day working on her game. To reach their stated goal, Johnson says the Panthers will have to take it one day at a time and focus on the little things. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication (to reach state),” she says.

Johnson knows a thing or two about dedication. She finds time to juggle a healthy academic schedule while pursuing other interests beyond basketball. She’s a bit of a foodie. She writes a weekly restaurant review column in the school paper, which gives her a chance to step out and try the local fare.

Johnson gets busy in the kitchen, too. She’s just as likely to gobble up rebounds as she is to throw together a chocolate cake that has earned rave reviews from friends and family. “It’s a famous cake I make,” she says with a laugh.

The only thing more diverse than Johnson’s palate is her basketball skill set. In an effort to make herself more attractive to college coaches, Johnson went to work on her jump shot in the offseason. Because she’s 5-10, she figured it would be necessary to consistently knock down an outside shot. So far the results have been striking.

After attempting a meager six three-pointers her sophomore and junior seasons combined, she’s hit 16 of 27 this year. She’s shooting nearly 60 percent on her treys, a staggering number. She even knocked down four three-pointers against Incarnate Word when Purdue recruit Taylor Manuel was guarding her. That’s no small feat considering Manuel is 6-3 with the wingspan of a condor.

But more than her rebounds, scoring, toughness and new-look jumper, Johnson does her best work because she buys into what Principia coach Shad Nichols is selling. Nichols believes the key to being a good team starts with being a good teammate. The Panthers’ motto this year revolves around making games, practices and the season good for your teammates. Johnson is behind that idea 100 percent. “We celebrate each other,” Johnson says. “Off the court any discord or disharmony we have we settle it right away. You have to play together.” And, Johnson has to play with an edge. Even if that makes her ‘mean.’