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Gia Johnson: Watching the Team Work

By Nell Scovell

Soccer player Gia Johnson has a lot in common with a Swiss watch--both are reliable and quiet, run smoothly and have great timing.

In fact, Johnson makes so few mistakes at left halfback that she seems to have an internal clock-like mechanism that tells her when to kick the ball. But the only gadgets that make her tick on the field are an outstanding field sense and a tremendous natural athletic ability.

Johnson has the special knack of anticipating where the ball will be in five seconds and reacting accordingly.

"Gia is the smartest player I've ever played with," tri-captain and left-winger Julie Brynteson said. "It's nice playing in front of her because she always makes the right play. If I miss a pass from Gia it's because I was in the wrong place."

While Johnson said she learned how to judge the flow of a game from playing field hockey in high school, she added that she and her Crimson teammates have developed a field sense of their own from working together.

This team bond, however, is not purely a physical matter of memorizing running patterns, but it also is a personal reflection of how well the team gets along.

"If we weren't so close to each other, we might not have a winning season," Johnson said.

A team-oriented player, Johnson said the hardest part about joining the squad as a freshman was not switching from field hockey to soccer, but adapting to new players.

At the Moorestown Friends School in New Jersey, the 5-ft., 5-in., 115-pounder played field hockey, basketball and tennis but had "only once kicked around a soccer ball in gym class."

"To tell you the truth, I never thought women were playing soccer except on the college level until I got here," Johnson said.

But growing up with a soccer-playing brother who now starts for the Bucknell varsity soccer team, Johnson thought she might give soccer a try.

"Before I came here, my brother wanted to teach me how to juggle the ball," she said, adding, "I still can't juggle it."

Johnson's speed and good field sense earned her a starting slot on varsity her first year while her skills steadily improved.

"Gia continues to get better because she sets high standards for herself and her performance," Harvard coach Bob Scalise said.

Although she manned center forward in field hockey, Scalise moved her into a halfback position for the simple fact that when "Gia was coming up we needed people to play halfback," he said.

While the Economics major misses the breakaway plays on offense, she "would rather go back and help the fullbacks than be forward and score."

"I try to think that I don't stop when the ball is going toward our goal," she added.

The ability to cover her teammates on defense while supporting them on offense has helped her adapt to different playing styles. For example, last year Johnson played a more defensive position of picking up loose players. This year, Scalise has her going one-on-one more which enables her to push up to offense. Already Johnson has recorded three assists this season--more than any player other than a forward.

"Gia does her job well and she helps other people do the same," teammate Lori Christensen said. "She's a very quiet influence, but you feel it."

The "strong but silent" side of Johnson clearly when Johnson was forced to leave the Dartmouth game with a gash in her lip. After receiving seven stitches, she came back to watch the rest of the match and the next week played against UMass with a mouthguard.

Fresh Face

"She's one of those players that makes you feel confident just knowing she's in there," tri-captain Ellen Hart said.

Or, in other words, when Johnson is on the field, you can bet the team will play like clockwork.

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