In the grand tradition that is American water polo, Ashleigh Johnson, the 2016 Sportswoman of the Year in a Team Sport award winner, is outstanding.
Johnson stands out as the first female African-American to ever make the U.S. Water Polo Olympic Team and is the only member who doesn’t call California home. But mostly, the golden goalie stands out because of her outstanding performances this year.
With a 64.5 save percentage, Johnson helped Team USA take the Rio Games gold medal with a 12 to five victory over Italy. With the win, the Americans became the first women’s team to take home consecutive Olympic gold medals.
Johnson was the key in what many consider the pivotal moment in the gold medal game. With 4:29 left in the third quarter, she blocked a penalty shot that seemed to spark a U.S. rally and set the team up for the win.
In the match, Johnson recorded nine saves and was voted top goalkeeper of the tournament by the media.
Before the Games, Johnson had nine saves and a steal in the first of a three-game series that pitted Team USA against Hungary. She had eight saves in the third game of the series that was played in June. In the same month, she saved eight shots in goal with Team USA, leading them to a Kunshan Cup victory.
She secured 62 saves with Team USA, which finished first at the 2016 FINA World League Super Final and Olympic Qualification Tournament.
As a star for Princeton University’s women’s water polo team, Johnson, a Miami native, was named the 2015 Player of the Year by the Collegiate Water Polo Association this past April.
To prepare for the 2016 Games, she took a year off from college to train in California.
The 6-foot-1 Johnson first had success in another pool sport. She was a Florida state champion in the 50-meter freestyle, but never liked swimming. She favored the team-orientated and more social sport of water polo.
While leaping, lunging and swatting her way to success in the pool, Johnson has been outstanding away from the water. She plans to graduate from Princeton in the spring with a degree in psychology. But first, she will win the 2016 Sportswoman of the Year in a team sport.
Every year, at our Annual Salute to Women in Sports, we recognize an individual sport athlete and team sport athlete whose performances over a 12-month time span have been exceptional. Past winners include Carli Lloyd, Venus and Serena Williams, Nastia Liukin, Jessica Mendoza and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Simply put: our Sportswoman of the Year Award is one of the most prestigious in the game. Learn more here.