USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey told the Associated Press that Ashleigh Johnson is “the future of our sport in the U.S.” Even though playing on the national team wasn’t originally in her plans, the 6-foot-1 goalie could be the catalyst for Team USA as they try to go for a second straight Olympic gold.
Water polo beginnings
Johnson is the only player on Team USA not from California, growing up in Miami, where she took swim lessons at an early age. She led her high school to three straight Florida state championships, and also excelled on the swim team, winning the 50-meter freestyle state championship her sophomore year. Johnson grew tired of swimming and was allowed to quit after the win.
Now a standout at Princeton, Johnson led the Tigers to the 2015 NCAA tournament. At the 2015 FINA World Championships, she had 66 saves on the way to a team gold medal and individual Gold Medal Match MVP and World Championship Top Goalkeeper award. She also won Top Goalkeeper at the 2014 FINA World Cup.
Johnson can often be seen with a big smile on her face. She’s also known for being one of the most purely athletic players on Team USA. Her long arms help her to guard all parts of the goal.
What people are saying
"She's a freak," Princeton coach Luis Nicolao told the AP. "She's just athletic. I often joke she could probably start for our basketball team, track team, swim team. She just has that natural ability to succeed at anything she does."
“She caught my eye actually before she even hopped in the water. She just looks like an amazing athlete,” USA head coach Adam Krikorian said to TIME. “The combination of her length and her quickness, her ability to be able to read where the ball is coming and react so quickly to it, she plays the position of goalie unlike anyone has ever played the position before.”
Johnson will be the first black woman to play on the U.S. Olympic water polo team. Both of her parents were born in Jamaica. She has four siblings - two older brothers, one younger brother and one younger sister. Her sister Chelsea also plays water polo at Princeton.