FALLS TWP. – While a pair of knee injuries kept Abby Johnson from stepping onto the varsity field for the Lady Falcons, the recent Pennsbury graduate experienced the chance in a lifetime last summer when she and her Yardley Makefield Soccer (YMS) U17 Girls Premier Xplosion ’98 team captured a U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship.
Now, Johnson is taking her game to the next level. A talented left side defender and outside midfielder, Johnson looked at numerous women’s soccer programs including Charleston, South Carolina and Philadelphia University. She says she received offers from American University, Francis Marion, PhillyU, and Southeastern Louisiana.
American was her top choice with Francis Marion running a close second when the Lady Lions of SE Louisiana came calling.
“I didn’t have any expectations; it was one of the last schools I looked at,” explained Johnson, who has been playing for YMS since the tender age of six.
“I really liked Francis Marion a lot but [SE Louisiana] asked me to come up. I went there and just fell in love with the place. I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.”
In the past five years, Xplosion captured Region 1 Championships and EPYSA NCS State Cups in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and made it to the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships every year from 2012 to 2016 and again this summer.
“It’s been amazing being on that team because we’ve just had so many victories,” said Johnson. “We’re like a family so we always pull through. Even when the other team might be better, we always find a way to win.”
In its previous three trips to nationals, YMS advanced to the final but had fallen just short. And in two of those losses, just one goal separated the Eastern Pennsylvania side from the title. With the previous years in the rearview mirror, YMS was looking at one more chance to bring home the National Championship in 2016.
Xplosion did just that, rebounding from a 2-0 halftime deficit to top Beach FC Academy (Cal-South) 3-2 in extra time. Wissahickon senior Maddie Elwell scored first for YMS, then forward Murphy Agnew gained the equalizer. A recent Villa Jo Marie grad from Holland who is headed to Harvard, Agnew scored again in extra time to help her team claim a national title.
“Losing at nationals so many times was hard; it was very discouraging,” said Johnson. “So finally, the fourth year was the jackpot.
“In the final, we were trailing 2-0 at halftime so we thought we might lose it again.
“But we’ve come back so many times before and we found a way to do it again.”
Johnson says Xplosion has helped her develop as a player. Led by YMS Director John Greaves, the team is back at nationals this summer in Frisco, Texas.
“I have a really good coach and he knows what he’s talking about. He’s been hard on us at the right times. Since we’re so much like a family, it’s always been shown on the field.
“It’s really helped me be strong, through injuries. I’ve come back from them. I’m here now and this team has helped me grow as a person.”
When Johnson arrives in Hammond this fall, she’ll have a new coach. In November, SE Louisiana picked Christopher McBride to replace interim skipper Matt Muia and become just the fourth head coach in the history of the Lions’ soccer program.
McBride comes to Southeastern from the University of South Alabama where he served one season as an assistant coach. After finishing with a 7-3 conference mark, the Jaguars (15-6-1, overall) captured their fourth straight Sun Belt Conference Tournament title last season, earning a berth in NCAAs.
McBride previously held the head post at North Alabama for four seasons, helping lead those Lions to a 50-21-6 record and three NCAA Division II Tournament appearances.
Johnson likes the coach already.
“I’m actually more excited about him,” said Johnson. “He seems to really know what he’s talking about. He wants to win. He wants to give us more challenges.
“We’re in Southland Conference so we’ll play Ole Miss, Alabama – top schools. I’m really excited to bring my level higher than it was before and experience a new kind of soccer.”
NOTES: YMS Premier Xplosion is 1-1 at US Youth Soccer Nationals after today’s (July 26) 1-0 loss to Maryland champs ASA Coyotes. The team won its opening matchup in Frisco by a 3-2 score facing Team Chicago 1998 Elite, the Illinois champion. YMS got a first-half goal in the 31st minute from Rebecca Rossett (Woodbury) and back-to-back second half strikes from Madison Elwell (73rd minute) and Rossett (74th minute).
TOP PHOTO: Recent Pennsbury High School graduate Abby Johnson, center, is seen here with her parents at a college commitment ceremony hosted during the Spring Semester at the West Campus. Currently playing with YMS Premier Xplosion ‘98 at U.S. Youth Soccer Nationals in Frisco, Texas, Abby is headed to Southeastern Louisiana University to play women’s soccer in the fall.
(Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media)