AURORA – Kaitlin Johnson is a four-year varsity standout, a Division I recruit and perhaps the top player on the Rosary girls soccer team, but Royals coach Kristy Kane acknowledges Johnson is not a team leader in the traditional sense.
With a chuckle – Johnson prompts plenty of those – Kane mused that Johnson is the Patrick Kane of the Royals, a nod to Johnson’s free-spirited ways, not to mention her talent.
Royals goalkeeper Lauren Frasca, a close friend of Johnson’s, supported the analogy.
“She will come with crew socks on and not have soccer socks and won’t wear shin guards – whatever she’s feeling, she’ll do it,” Frasca said. “She’ll say whatever she wants, whenever she wants, and after school, she’ll eat so much food, she doesn’t care. It’s almost like she has a sense like she can do whatever she wants, but at practice, you’ll see her sweating the most. She works so hard.
“ … She’s just a different person. You can’t say that anybody’s like her.”
From a soccer skills standpoint, there aren’t many who compare to Johnson, either. The Geneva resident and Michigan State recruit provides a dynamic presence at center-midfield for the Royals, who are preparing for Monday’s season opener against Glenbard North.
Johnson doesn’t deny her coach’s assertion that she’s somewhat of a goof. Guilty as charged.
“I always get the dancing going during warmup to the warmup CD,” Johnson said. “I play soccer because it’s fun, and I love it, so I’m going to make it as fun as possible. Winning’s top priority, and then fun.”
Johnson helps the Royals enjoy plenty of both.
A gifted midfielder who plays club soccer with Team Chicago Academy out of Aurora, Johnson has “great speed and great skill, and she’s got great endurance,” according to Kane.
Kane said she might ask Johnson to branch out from her usual center-midfield spot this spring for the Royals, who went 18-6 and advanced to a 2A sectional final last season.
“That’s kind of part of what we’re hoping this year, if we need her to step up and maybe try something new, that she can do that, whether that be defense or maybe even forward with her speed,” Kane said. “I feel like she has a skill set where she could really play anywhere on the field.”
Frasca, though, is especially appreciative of Johnson’s defensive-minded wiring.
“I know when I yell ‘Kaitlin,’ she’ll run as fast as she can back to come and protect the goal,” Frasca said. “Her work rate is so awesome.”
Johnson committed to Toledo the summer leading up to her junior year but reassessed her plans, and committed to Michigan State in January.
“It wasn’t the school or the coaching staff [at Toledo], it was I decided what I wanted to do academically,” said Johnson, who plans to study toward becoming a veterinarian. “I was so young when I first committed that I didn’t exactly know what I wanted.”
Before heading off for East Lansing, Mich., Johnson looks forward to a big final go-around with the Royals, who are looking to push defending 2A state champion St. Francis and perennial power Wheaton Academy for supremacy in the Suburban Christian Conference.
The Royals likely will be without sophomore standouts Quincy Kellett (ankle injury), a forward, and defender Maria Witte (knee injury) early in the season, but once they’re at full strength – and maybe even before – Johnson expects great things.
“It’s probably going to be our best year out of the four that I’ve been here, I think,” Johnson said.
With Johnson in the mix, the Royals figure to pile up the wins with plenty of pizzazz, on and off the field.
In a moment that again brings Patrick Kane to mind, Johnson promised to bust out her share of flashy moves when the circumstances are right.
“Sometimes [coach Kane] has to keep me in line but for the most part, I can focus when it needs to be done,” Johnson said.