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Senior defender Lucy Johnson bounces back from injuries to patrol the pitch

The defender finally rejoins ASU's back line when the Sun Devils need her most

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ASU senior defender Lucy Johnson (3) tries to get past a Colorado College player at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium on Friday, Sep. 15, 2023 in Tempe. ASU 3-0.

Senior defender Lucy Johnson has battled through injury after injury to regain her role in the back four. After another injury scare, the 5-1-3 Sun Devils are counting on Johnson to return to form as their trustworthy last line of defense.

Back home in England, Johnson played for the England women's under-17 national team and Leicester City Football Club, an FA Women's Championship club. Despite joining Leicester City at just 16, she earned playing time in 17 matches over two seasons with the club. 

"I was like the youngest girl on the team, like playing with women that had kids and stuff who were a lot older than me," Johnson said. "So it was nice to get that experience and learn from them. It was also tough because I was at the bottom of the pecking order." 

When England called her name, Johnson suited up for the Young Lionesses at the 2019 UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship. In group-stage play, Johnson scored the opening goal in England's 2-1 win against Austria.  

While England didn't advance to the knockout stage, Johnson started all three of the Young Lionesses' matches and played well enough to impress ASU head coach Graham Winkworth. After crossing the pond to watch the tournament, Winkworth said he recruited Johnson for her one-on-one defending and unique skillset.

"She's also left-footed, and left-backs are hard to find," Winkworth said. "She has an ability to also get forward and put dangerous crosses in the attacking part of the pitch."

Hitting the ground running, Johnson immediately impacted Tempe by starting 11 matches in her freshman season. In her first NCAA Tournament appearance, Johnson came in clutch by notching a goal and an assist in the Sun Devils' win over Siena College. 

After her rookie campaign, Johnson's time on the pitch was cut short due to a string of ankle injuries. When she was forced off the pitch, ASU lost six out of 10 matches that Johnson missed throughout the two previous seasons. In losses Johnson didn't play in, the Sun Devils gave up 18 goals while their offense could only tally seven.

Johnson made the most of her limited playing time when she could finally suit up by patrolling the back line and shutting down attackers. With her on the pitch, the Sun Devils only allowed 1.43 goals per game on average in 28 matches. 

Johnson's best season came in 2022 when she led the team with eight assists while playing in 13 of the team's 18 matches. Capping off the regular season, Johnson scored a game-winning goal in the 79th minute minute of ASU's 3-2 win over UA.

Johnson said she puts pressure on forwards to shut down chances and tries to push the ball into the attacking third of the pitch. While recognizing her skills, Johnson said the back line must work together to counter offenses effectively.

"We try and communicate a lot," Johnson said. "We've got some good leadership on the back line."

So far this season, Johnson missed ASU's first six games with yet another ankle injury. However, she has inched back onto the pitch by playing in each of the Sun Devils' last three matches. Winkworth said he's counting on Johnson to get back into playing shape and return to the pitch as the lockdown defender he recruited.  

Off the pitch, Johnson is putting her injury history to good use by mentoring teammates experiencing similar issues. Overall, Johnson tries to create an upbeat environment in the locker room with her enthusiastic personality. Recognizing her leadership, freshman forward Savannah Maley said she views Johnson as a teammate and friend she can trust.

"She's just a positive influence on all of us," Maley said. "I definitely go to her and talk to her about personal things all the time."

Leading by example, Johnson wants to stay healthy and regain her spot in the starting lineup. As she recovers from her injuries, Johnson said she's looking forward to playing alongside her friends and helping the team succeed in conference play. 

"I'm enjoying getting into Pac-12 play, which we know is going to be really competitive but such a good challenge for us," Johnson said. "We've got a new group, but with that, we've got new strengths as well."

Edited by Vinny Deangelis, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan

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