The U.S. women’s water polo team will look very different at the 2016 Olympics, should it qualify, than it did at the London Games, and the most striking change will likely be in goal.
Ashleigh Johnson is in line to succeed Betsey Armstrong as the No. 1 U.S. Olympic goalkeeper. Armstrong started for the U.S. in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, helping the Americans to their first women’s water polo gold in 2012 after silver at Sydney 2000, bronze at Athens 2004 and silver at Beijing 2008.
Johnson, 20, was the only non-Californian on the roster that won the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, earlier this month. In 2016, she could become the first African-American woman to make an Olympic water polo team.
“I didn’t even really wonder why there weren’t any more black people on the team, because that’s just how it’s always been,” Johnson told NBC Miami.
At Worlds, Johnson was named the top goalie for the tournament and MVP of the gold-medal game, a 5-4 win over the Netherlands.
The U.S. holds the Olympic, World Championship, World League and World Cup titles, an unprecedented accomplishment since women’s water polo was added to the Olympic program in 2000.
Johnson will take this school year off from Princeton as she eyes Rio. It’s been quite a journey for one of five children raised by a single mom who moved to South Florida from Jamaica.
“I really want to be that person who can show people that black girls can excel in water sports,” said Johnson, who learned to swim in a backyard pool growing up on a five-acre farm property.