Editor’s note: Our chat with Gussie Johns is sponsored by SISU Guard, official mouthguard of Team USA. LaxAllStars is proud to be working with SISU and US Lacrosse to cover Team USA any way possible!
By the end of Gussie Johns’ high school career, anyone keeping tabs on the women’s game knew she was going to be special. A four-year letter winner with the historic St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School lacrosse program in D.C., Johns became the 6th ranked recruit in her class. Her senior year, she was named to the Under Armour All-America Team after three-straight Under Armour Underclass Lacrosse Classic selections. An all-time great at SSSAS, Johns only suffered 8 losses in her 4 years, leading the way to a Virginia State Championship and Independent School League titles.
In four years of high school, Gussie made 439 saves, scooped 236 loose balls, and forced 57 turnovers, earning her a long list of accolades. In 2014 alone, Johns was the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association and D.C. All-Metro Player of the Year, earning her All-Independent School League and first-team All-State honors. Aside from being a multi-sport athlete, lacrosse quickly became her life, starting in the backyard with her brothers. With such a storied background and growing up with rich lacrosse tradition, the top goaltending recruit made some waves by opting to take her talents 2,600+ miles west to the University of Southern California, where women’s lacrosse was only established two years before her arrival on campus.
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The ability to create something on her own, be a part of newly formed traditions, and to help create the mold for success was appealing to a girl who was groomed through years of tried and true customs and history. It also didn’t hurt that her lacrosse playing role-model, Devon Wills, happened to be on staff at USC. Once in L.A., Johns made an immediate impact to the Women of Troy, capturing the starting job as a freshman. By her junior year, she had earned the respect as one of the top goaltenders in the NCAA, backstopping her team to an 18-4 record and 8th overall finish. I could talk all day at how she absolutely dominates the college lacrosse scene, but it’s probably better for you to just watch and learn.
From there, she worked her way onto the US Women’s National Team as one of only two current college students. While at the 2017 Rathbones Women’s Lacrosse World Cup, she backed-up her coach and mentor’s final run in the cage to capture the gold medal. Now that Wills has reached retirement, the position is all Johns’ for the taking. Being one of the youngest members of the roster, the future of goaltending is bright for Team USA for many years to come.
I’ll let Gussie continue to tell her story through our recent Q&A session…
Interview with Gussie Johns
MD: Congrats on bringing home your first gold medal for Team USA this summer! How did you get your start in the cage and who did you try to model your game after?
GJ: With three older brothers, I grew up playing boys lacrosse for most of my youth. When it was time to start playing with the girls as well, I didn’t want to play with a stick that had no pocket and I had no interest in wearing a skirt while playing.
Being that I was already used to the equipment, hopping in the goal seemed like a natural transition. My middle brother, Bo, also played goalie and so once I found out that I liked the position, I just tried to copy him as much as possible.
Around that time (4th grade), I also attended a Team USA youth clinic and met Devon Wills. She has had a large influence on my game ever since.
What are some drills (or other things) you work on as a goalie when there’s no one around to shoot on you?
When thinking about in cage skills, I do a lot of work with tennis ball machines. Even though the machines do not create the same ball path or release as a normal shooter, they allow me to work on hand speed and saving motions.
At USC, we also have access to this very cool light board that has allowed me to work on tracking in many different ways.
Additionally, I will go to the weight room a lot on my own to do accessory lifts that I can’t get in during my team lifts. I will work a lot on things that will increase power, stability, and balance as I see those as key elements to helping me perform in the cage.
We first heard about you in high school as the top-ranked goalie in the country. Coming from D.C., how did you end up playing on the West Coast at USC and has removing yourself from what you’re familiar with helped your game?
During the recruiting process, I looked at a bunch of different schools, but USC was actually the first one that I visited. From the moment I stepped foot on campus and began talking to the coaches, something just clicked and felt right. It was the combination of athletics, academics, and the chance to be a part of something new that drew me in.
I came from such a storied high school program, with such a rich history, that the idea of building something and being a part of forming its foundation sounded like and opportunity that I could not pass up.
Then, obviously, the coaches were a huge draw for me as well. Lindsey [Munday] is one of the best attackers of all-time and her passion for the game is contagious and I wanted to be a part of that.
Then there is Devon. Having the chance to work with her has been a dream come true. It was something that I knew I could not pass up as I have looked up to her since I was in 4th grade. She has influenced me, both as person and as a goalie, in ways that I cannot even begin to describe.
Not only were you one of only two college athletes on the team, you were backing up Devon, your coach at USC. Can you describe the experience of being one of the youngest on the team, and getting to work with Devon as a peer?
While there was an age gap on the team, I never really felt it. Everyone has been so welcoming since the beginning of the process and as just treated me like any other teammate. The group that was together over the summer became really close. We all bonded over of love for the sport. It did not matter how old you were or where you were from, we all just enjoyed each other’s company so much. It was truly an amazing group of individuals and I was beyond lucky to be a part of such an awesome group of people.
Devon and I have always had a really great relationship. She has been someone that I have looked up since I was little, have had the privilege of being coached by, and now have been able to call my teammate. Not only is she one of the best lacrosse players of time, but she is also just an amazing person.
I have been able to see that over the years, but it was incredible to get to see if from the playing side as well. She is one of the best teammates and having the opportunity to share the crease with her was never something I imagined would happen.
While the entire US experience has been an absolute dream come true and amazing on every level, being able to play with Devon is something that I will cherish forever.
What are you able to bring back to the NCAA game after playing with the world’s best lacrosse players this summer?
The importance of always having fun and working for something bigger than yourself. My group of US teammates is not only the most talent that I have ever played with, but they also exude more passion for the game than I thought possible. Each and every one of them works hard day in and day out to get better, not only for themselves, but also for the team as a whole. They dedicate themselves to making those around them better.
The entire process taught me that you can work hard, but if you are not having fun and enjoying yourself, then it’s not worth it. I can honestly say that this team was laughing every step of the way, making sure to enjoy each other and the process as a whole. I want to carry that love and excitement for the game with me during every step of my lacrosse career.
I expect to see you at the 2021 World Cup, but before then you’ve got one more college season and graduation. What do you see yourself doing once you’re done with school, on and off of the field?
I am not exactly sure yet, but I have a few ideas in my head. I want to be doing something that will allow me to combine my love of sports with my love for business. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to continue to play both professionally and internationally as lacrosse is such as big part of who I am and I can’t imagine just stepping away from it once I finish with college. It is something that will always be a part of my life and is something that I will pursue in every way possible.
We let each athlete choose a teammate to ask any question to. Alice Mercer picked you and wants to know: What’s the most awkward thing that happens to you on a regular basis?
In our athletic Facility at USC, there is this one spot in the hallway where there is this little dip in the floor. Every time I walk by it, on the way to lift, I trip. Even though my teammates and I know that it is there, several of us trip every time, without fault. You would think that after 3.5 years I would have learned to just avoid that spot by now.
Please name one Team USA athlete we should interview…
What is the first question we should ask her?
If you had to change your name, what would your new name be, and why would you choose that name?
Thanks for your time, Gussie!