‘I just immediately accepted it’

‘I just immediately accepted it’

CHAMPAIGN — Meredith Johnson-Monfort was worried.

Her chance to impress college soccer coaches was done after breaking her lateral tibial plateau in the Presidents Cup national title game with her club team, Illinois Fire Juniors, in Auburndale, Fla., on July 16.

But one school was always in the back of her head. It was a school that she had watched growing up, and where several members of her family had attended. When Illinois coach Janet Rayfield responded to Johnson-Monfort's email inquiry, invited her to practice and offered her a preferred walk-on spot, it wasn't even a question as to how she would respond.

"I just immediately accepted it," said Johnson-Monfort, a senior at Mahomet-Seymour. "I've just wanted this for so long, and I'm just super excited for it to start."

The idea of playing for the Illini was never foreign to Johnson-Monfort, but it was always an aspiration.

Illinois' one-time career leading scorer, Tara Hurless, used to come to her family's soccer field to coach her.

"Just their style of play and the determination and the work ethic that I see there, I just really look up to them," she said. "I would always see (Hurless) and be like, 'Mom, I want to grow up to be like her.' It's just super exciting that I'm there kind of.

"I've wanted this for so long that the fact that it's reality, it hasn't sunken in yet. But I'm so very excited. That's really the word I've been using. I'm so pumped that this is real and it makes me want to work even harder on things and just play and just be the best that I can be."

The 2017 News-Gazette All-Area Player of the Year scored 34 goals for the Bulldogs last season and finished second in the Presidents Cup in goal scoring with three. She's earned All-Area first team honors all three years of her high school career with the Bulldogs.

The situation she's in, entering the program as a preferred walk-on, isn't lost on her.

"(Rayfield) knows that I know the realities of it, that my freshman and sophomore years, I might not see the field," Johnson-Monfort said. "But I am OK with that, and she was more than happy."

She also believes in her own talent and work ethic. Apparently, Rayfield believes in it, too.

"She knows with my leg injury that I've been out for a while, but she's seen that I've improved drastically, how hard of a worker I am, and just my character," Johnson-Monfort said. "She said, 'Well, I can see you doing something here later in your career.' She said I could be a player who can change the team, and that was just exciting to hear."