Black History 365: Ashleigh Johnson

Ashleigh Elizabeth Johnson (born September 12, 1994) is an American water polo player considered by many[2][3][4][5] to be the best goalkeeper in the world. She was part of the American team that won the gold medal at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships.[6][7] In 2016, she became the first African-American woman to make the US Olympic team in water polo. She was part of the gold-medal winning 2016 and 2020 U.S. women’s water polo Olympic teams.[8][9]

Early life

Johnson was raised by her mother, Donna Johnson. Johnson grew up with four siblings (three brothers and one sister), all of whom play water polo. Her brothers are Blake, Julius and William. Her younger sister Chelsea, is a 2 Meter player and played with Johnson at Princeton. Chelsea graduated from Princeton in 2018 and continues to be involved with water polo in Miami.[10][11] Ashleigh Johnson graduated from Princeton in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.[12]

About her decision to play goalie in water polo, Johnson shared with Princeton Alumni Weekly her goalie origins trace back to her sister Chelsea:

I was just copying her, I wasn’t choosing to go in the goal because it was anything that appealed to me in particular.[13]

Water polo career

High school

Johnson was raised in Miami, Florida and attended Ransom Everglades School for high school. At Ransom Everglades, she was a four-year letter winner and starter on her school’s team guiding them to three consecutive Florida State Championships. She also earned All-Dade honors throughout career, while also earning all-county honors twice in swimming.[10]

As a senior, Johnson committed to play water polo at Princeton University.

Collegiate career

In her first year she was named Third-Team All American, while earning Honorable Mention as a sophomore in 2014, and Second Team as a junior in 2015.[10]

2016 Summer Olympics

See also: Water polo at the 2016 Summer Olympics

Johnson was the first African-American woman to make the US Olympic water polo team when she made the team for the 2016 Summer Olympics.[14] The geographical diversity Johnson brought to the team, she was the only team member not from California, was highlighted by SwimSwam before the Olympic Games.[15] Her age, 21 years old, and with her sub-Saharan African ancestry, she identifies as Black, were highlighted by Sports Illustrated leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games.[16] She helped the team win the gold medal at the Olympic Games.[14]

Orizzonte Catania, Italy

From January 2018 she has been hired by the Orizzonte Catania, the most titled club in Europe in recent times. She lives and trains in Italy for Orizzonte Catania during the season, training in the United States in the off-season.[17]

Ethnikos Piraeus, Greece

For the 2021-22 season, she is the goalkeeper of Greek Ethnikos Piraeus, a club with big tradition in Greek waterpolo. [18] On March 30, she won the Women’s LEN Trophy with Ethnikos Piraeus. That was the second time Ethnikos has won the title, thus becoming the Greek team with the most in the competition. Meanwhile, that was Johnson’s first European club competition title.