Where Are They Now: Estelle Johnson

July 15, 2010

Estelle Johnson starred with the Kansas soccer team from 2006-09, becoming a mainstay in the defensive backfield for the Jayhawks. She finished her Kansas career recording the fourth-most starts of any field player in team history, and the most games started. Following her KU career, Johnson was selected by the Los Angeles Sol in the third round of WPS Draft. However, shortly after drafting Johnson, the Sol were forced to shut down operations due to a lack of funds.

Johnson was picked up by the Philadelphia Independence prior to the beginning of the season. Following a team practice this week, she caught up with KUAthletics.com.

Compare living in Philadelphia to living in your hometown (Fort Collins, Colo.) and Lawrence:

EJ: “It’s been a huge adjustment, even weather-wise. Kansas is humid (during the summer), but it’s nothing like Philly. When I tell people that I’m from Colorado, and went to school in Kansas, they’re astonished. I think they’re all more familiar with the schools out here.”

“It takes so much longer to get everywhere, and just to get into the city. There are so many people. It’s really cool, because it’s really diverse. It’s a huge adjustment with so many people around all the time. I’ve liked it though, because I’ve never lived anywhere like it before.”

What has the experience of playing in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league been like for you?

EJ: “It’s been amazing. It seems like everyone (in the league) is a superstar. You play against the best players in the world every day. For example, we’re flying to the Bay Area (this weekend) to play against (Brazilian soccer sensation) Marta.”

“The competition in the Big 12 was pretty good, but I don’t think it can compare to anything at this level. The pace of the game is just so much faster, everyone is just that much better at every part of their game.”

Who are the best players you’ve gotten to play with and against?

EJ: “I think the best one we’ve played against is Marta, when we played (FC Gold Pride) earlier this year. I’ve played against a lot of good players, like (U.S. National team members) Heather O’Reilly and Natasha Kai when we played against Sky Blue FC. There are a lot of big names, but the best one I’ve seen has been Marta.”

When you’ve seen these players on television and read about them before, is it intimidating to go against them on the field?

EJ: “It’s crazy. In my first game, we played against Abby Wambaugh (Washington Freedom), and I can remember when I was little thinking that she was awesome. I was a huge fan, and now it’s my job to defend her. I think I’m over the whole ‘being star-struck’. But when you think about it, it’s pretty crazy.”

Describe your emotions when you were drafted in March, and then found out a few weeks later that the team was folding:

EJ: “It was about as stressful as you can imagine. I went ‘wow, I got drafted, this is exciting’ to ‘nevermind’. It was like, ‘psyche, you’re not going there any more’. I really wasn’t sure about getting picked up by anybody else, because the L.A. coach (Abner Rogers) was the only one who had come out to see me play. I was pretty surprised when I got picked up by Philly, but it all worked out.”

Did you think your playing career was over when the Sol folded?

EJ: “I thought that for a week. I went home and trained just in case, but I didn’t have much confidence. I kind of gave up hope for a second. When I got picked up by Philly, I was actually nervous, but I thought that there had to be a reason why I’m here, and a reason why they wanted to bring me in. I knew it was hard for girls to get into the league, and if I wouldn’t have made it, I would have been upset, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I probably would have just tried again next year.”

Describe what it’s like to be one of the rookies on the team:

EJ: “My teammates have been great. They’re all really inviting, and make you feel at home. But at the same time, we always joke that (teammate Heather) Mitts is a decade older than me. We faced a keeper (Alyssa Naeher) last week who had an amazing game and didn’t play like a rookie at all. In some ways that’s inspiring to me, showing me that you can succeed, even as a young player.”

Have you kept in contact with many people from KU, former coaches or teammates?

EJ: “I’ve actually probably talked to the coaches more than the players; I’ve talked to Kelly (Miller) and Coach (Mark Francis) a lot. They’ve been pretty encouraging, just telling me to work hard and see what happens. (It’s) probably the normal advice that you’d get.”

What were your best memories from your time at Kansas?

EJ: “My favorite memory on the field had to be Senior Day this year when we beat Missouri. That was awesome. That was just what we needed at the time. It was great.”

“I think my favorite non-soccer part of KU was just being with the girls and having dinners at Coach’s (Francis) house. It’s the little stuff that counts.”

What advice would you give to somebody who was in your shoes four years ago and wants to be where you’re at now?

A: “The main thing would be keep playing hard, and don’t worry what everybody else says. It’s really hard to be a freshman, because you’re adjusting to a lot of stuff all at once. If you let it, you can really kill your confidence. So play hard and don’t play scared.”