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The Day's All-Area Girls' Soccer Player of the Year: Old Lyme's Mya Johnson

Her humility is among the most noticeable things about Old Lyme High School junior Mya Johnson, whether she’s talking about a fight with mononucleosis that sapped her strength and her confidence last season or the time she scored the game-winning goal for another team in the Connecticut Junior Soccer Association State Cup tournament.

“They won off my header,” Johnson said of the mishap on the field. “I redirected it and it went in. The state final this year wasn’t the only (game-winning) header I’ve had.”

And yet Johnson’s a pretty big deal.

This season, Johnson was an All-New England selection for Old Lyme, leading the Wildcats to their third straight Class S state championship on her watch. She scored the game-winning goal on a header in overtime to wrap up the title on a corner kick from Dani McCarthy, a play which was just as much artwork as soccer. She's recorded 81 career goals, breaking Old Lyme’s career record of 80, previously held by program legend Winnie Bing. She was named Class S all-state for the second time in her career.

Johnson, with 33 goals, was selected as The Day’s 2017 All-Area Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year, the second such honor of her career.

“She’s on the one hand,” said Rob Brule, the former Waterford High School coach who serves as Johnson’s coach on the Southeast Soccer Club. “She’s in that world of greats, great young adults … they just have it. It’s rare you see a kid perform at that high a level and her very last minute was her greatest play.

“… Respectful, gracious, genuine, bright, all these other things. Sometimes you shake your head and say, ‘Is this kid for real? Is she this nice?’ You talk to her for five minutes and you realize she is. And she’s the best (player) around here.”

“She works hard; it’s her work ethic,” Old Lyme coach Paul Gleason said, asked what separates Johnson. “Another kid will give up on a ball. In that first championship game (a 2-2 overtime tie with Notre Dame of Fairfield in 2015), the ball was going out of bounds on their back line. Any other player would have just let the ball go out, but she saved it to Maddie Ouellette and we scored. It’s that perspicacity you don’t see in other players.”

Johnson began her career at Old Lyme as a 13-year-old freshman, silent and unassuming, but hardly intimidated. She commenced playing on teams with girls older than her when she was 8. Because she was always one of the younger players in her grade, Johnson played up not one age group, but two.

“I got the experience to be with these girls,” Johnson said. “It exposed me to soccer. I was used to playing up, so when I was a freshman, I was used to it.”

Johnson scored 31 goals as a freshman, leading Old Lyme to a 17-2-3 record with the Shoreline Conference tournament and Class S tournament titles. She was named The Day’s Player of the Year.

Last year, Johnson was suffering from mononucleosis, which went undiagnosed. She scored 17 goals, yet slipped from all-state contention. Johnson remained in the Old Lyme lineup throughout the postseason, helping lift the Wildcats to a second title, a 1-0 victory over Old Saybrook to finish 19-1-2, but she recalls that her own play “definitely wasn’t anything special.”

“I just thought I lost it,” Johnson said with a smile. “I thought, ‘freshman year they hyped me up so much.’ I love soccer, but it was hard to love it. My body just couldn’t physically do it.”

She was still weakened when she finished the high school season and went to play for her Southeast team, drawing Brule as a coach for the first time. He named her captain. He also gave her a priceless gift, a Boston Breakers training jersey belonging to former Waterford All-American Katie Schoepfer, who went on to play professionally.

“He made me captain,” Johnson said. “It woke it up, like this is real. He gave this whole speech about colleges, what colleges are looking for. Talking was definitely a big one. You can’t just be quiet on the field. … I think my confidence came back. My confidence was so low.”

Johnson parlayed that confidence into the season of a lifetime (so far). Old Lyme finished 21-1 this year and defeated Holy Cross 2-1 for the Class S championship, coming from behind. Johnson was one of three all-state picks for the Wildcats, joining Ouellette in the midfield and center back Maddie Zrenda.

“Just how close we all are as a team … it made this team different,” Johnson said. “(At our banquet), everyone was crying. It was bad. Emily (Rivera, Old Lyme’s goalie) put together this amazing video from her GoPro. There wasn’t one person that wasn’t in tears. … I got the chance (to break the scoring record) from our whole team giving me the opportunity. It wasn’t just me."

Brule and Gleason are convinced that Johnson is a Division I college talent.

“Last year, when she got healthy, in the spring, she started doing things,” Brule said. “She started separating herself from the defender. She started hitting bullets from 20-30 yards out with both feet. I hadn’t seen that since Katie.”

Johnson would prefer to play at the Division III level, where athletics is less of “a job,” she said.

Either way, she still has one final high school challenge: her senior season.

Said Gleason: “When freshmen come in, I reserve my time with them on the field. They’re going against girls that are juniors, whose strength and speed make it difficult for a younger woman to be able to challenge them. We saw what she had and (after a while), we just never took her out. She was a dynamic ballplayer.”

“I can’t wait to play again,” Johnson said of next season. “We won’t have the six girls from the U8 and club team (who are graduating). It’s the first year it’s been real to me. To step up and try to fill Maddie O’s shoes? It’s scary. I know I have enough confidence in my teammates and the coaching staff, we can get the job done.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

The Day's 2017 All-Area Girls' Soccer Team

Player of the Year — Mya Johnson (Old Lyme)

Forward — Kayla Park (NFA), Karlie Rowe (East Lyme)

Midfield — Alivia Catanzaro (East Lyme), Juliette Hogan (NFA), Jacklyn Lavoie (Waterford), Maddie Ouellette (Old Lyme)

Defense — Julia Florek (Waterford), Mia Londregan (St. Bernard), Isabelle Riker (East Lyme), Maddie Zrenda (Old Lyme)

Goalie — Hayley Sorrentino (East Lyme)

Utility — Madison Beaupre (Montville)

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