Staying there…now that’s really tough. All eyes are upon you. There’re expectations. There’re no breathers. There’s no letting up. Every opponent will bring its A-game.
Such was the situation in which Collegiate’s girls varsity soccer team found itself this past spring. After Coach Rob Ukrop’s crew won the VISAA championship the year before, there was only one direction to go, and that wasn’t the least bit acceptable.
So what did the Cougars do? They went 15-2-1, claimed the League of Independent Schools title which had eluded them the year before, then defended their state championship with a 3-1 victory over Saint John Paul the Great.
And Kate Johnston, a 2019 graduate bound for James Madison, repeated as Richmond Times-Dispatch player of the year.
Kate, who also earned league and state player of the year honors, is the sixth Collegiate girls soccer player to be honored by the RTD and the second to receive the award twice. Molly McKeon was cited in 2006 and 2008, Anne Wiltshire in 2003, Heather Hallberg in 2004, Brittany Hallberg in 2007, and Becky Patton in 2009.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Kate, who was introduced to soccer when she was three years old and began playing year-round at seven. “I play with a lot of girls who are really good with my club team, Richmond United, and also at Collegiate. I know I’m playing against some of the best, so this (recognition) is definitely an honor.”
From her defensive center midfielder position, Kate scored six goals (three game-winners) and contributed seven assists. Her career line reads 23 goals and 24 assists.
Beyond statistics and multiple All-LIS, All-VISAA, and All-Metro accolades, what has her presence meant to Collegiate’s soccer program?
“KJ brought toughness,” Ukrop said. “Just day-in-day-out, come-out, compete, push yourself to your limit, hold yourself to a high standard, and most importantly, she did it with a joyful heart. It was contagious.”
Managing high expectations was actually no big deal. Not for Kate. Not for the Cougars.
“We knew everyone would have their best game when they played us,” Kate said. “We just had to play our game: keep possession and stay composed until we could get a shot. We had to be confident and not be nervous. If we did that, we knew we’d get the best game out of everyone.”
Easy to say, of course. A bit tougher to do.
“A lot of times, especially when teams are really being competitive with you,” she continued, “players and teams will tend to freak out and play chaotically. We knew we had to play together and stay focused.
“We didn’t change the way we looked at the season. Every year, we’re looking to win every game, and every game we’re looking to play our best. Every time I play, I want to play my best. There’re no thoughts of proving anything. I just play the game. If I thought about (external expectations), there’d be too much pressure that I wouldn’t enjoy it that much.”
Kate was one of three Collegiate soccer players named to the All-Metro squad. Junior Julia Edwards and sophomore Marianna McComb joined her on the first team.
While individual honors are nice and certainly well-deserved and much-appreciated, the team culture reflects an all-for-one, one-for-all approach.
“The past is the past,” Ukrop said. “This is today. We had a new mix of players. It was just an opportunity to go out every day at practice and express joy. We wanted the right mix of being together, competing hard, and having fun. This is not just about soccer. It’s about being connected. When you’re connected together, good things happen, especially when you have talent like we had.”