Sky high: Mahomet-Seymour's Johnson-Monfort shines on and off the field

Sky high: Mahomet-Seymour's Johnson-Monfort shines on and off the field

MAHOMET — Deja vu couldn't have struck at a worse time for Meredith Johnson-Monfort.

The Mahomet-Seymour girls' soccer standout was trying to push the Bulldogs to their third consecutive Class 2A regional championship last month when it happened. A twisted left ankle resulted in a sprain, as well as pulled tendons in that foot, during overtime against Normal U-High. Johnson-Monfort was distraught. As a senior, it was her last chance to make an impact in prep soccer. And it had been taken from her by a dash of bad luck.

"Honestly, it was kind of just like a flashback," Johnson-Monfort said. "Because a really similar thing happened when my team was at nationals in Florida."

Enter the deja vu.

On July 16, 2017, Johnson-Monfort was competing in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Presidents Cup title match in Auburndale, Fla. With the final seconds ticking down in double overtime, Johnson-Monfoft suffered a severe leg injury: a fractured lateral tibial plateau.

"I was out three or four months," Johnson-Monfort said. "That game went into PKs, too, as I sat on the sideline with a very swollen leg."

Johnson-Monfort's side fell short that day. That's where the deja vu ended against U-High. The incoming Illinois athlete saw her M-S teammates rally for a victory in penalty kicks.

"I was really anxious that was going to happen again," Johnson-Monfort said. "But I knew we were going to pull through, and we did. It made me feel a lot better."

And while Johnson-Monfort would not suit up again for the Bulldogs — in that triumph over U-High, or a sectional semifinal defeat against Springfield three days later — she used her final moments as a prep athlete to add to a legacy that's greater than the amazing levels of offense she generated.

Johnson-Monfort's selection as The News-Gazette's All-Area girls' soccer Player of the Year for the second consecutive season has plenty to do with her local-best 43 goals in addition to 13 assists, pushing her M-S program-leading totals to 117 and 44, respectively, in those two categories.

But those closest to Johnson-Monfort say her Bulldogs' tenure has been about far more than making her mark on the record books.

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Both Sarah Hohenstein and Melissa Singleton have played soccer with Johnson-Monfort in excess of 10 years. That string ended in last month's sectional semifinal against Springfield.

The M-S goalkeeper and defender have plenty of memories from their time with the oft-smiling Johnson-Monfort.

"She's a top-notch player. She definitely is," Singleton said. "On the field, she's got great vision. And athletically, she's incredibly fast."

"She was always a star throughout the years," Hohenstein added. "She's worked really hard to get there, though."

Singleton even had the added experience of lining up opposite Johnson-Monfort during middle school.

"It was really fun to play against her because she definitely is a challenge to play against," Singleton said. "But I'd much rather have her on my team."

With Johnson-Monfort in the Bulldog fold, coach Joey Gruner's 2018 outfit put together a 21-3 campaign that included a perfect mark against local foes. Johnson-Monfort's influence on that output manifested not only through her soccer prowess, but also her upbeat attitude.

"She's a great teammate," Singleton said. "And that's one of the things I enjoyed most about playing with her. A lot of (M-S' success this year) was cohesiveness as a team, and I think she played a huge role in that."

Johnson-Monfort doesn't let her star power cloud her vision on the pitch. She doesn't want the matches in which she's participating to revolve solely around her exploits.

That many of them did in her M-S career is not something Johnson-Monfort is willing to take full credit for.

"I still can't really fathom it, either," she said of her triple-digit prep goals total. "Honestly, on our team, we had a lot of girls who scored this season. I think it was really great to see all the players who could score when you put them in that position."

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Janet Rayfield already has witnessed the benevolence of which Hohenstein and Singleton speak of.

The Illinois women's soccer coach since 2002 oversaw a youth camp this past week, which was staffed by Johnson-Monfort and some of her new Illini teammates.

"She's just got a wonderful spirit," Rayfield said. "Working with the kids and seeing her give back to the game solidifies the kind of person we recruited."

For Johnson-Monfort, this temporary coaching role is not about targeting only the strongest youngsters for attention.

"Seeing how good and how talented they are, and some people who are just beginning soccer, it's cool to see the different levels that are out here," she said, "and all these different kids who want to be out here playing with us."

Johnson-Monfort is ready to display her affable personality in Illinois orange and blue. She doesn't anticipate being handed anything despite her impressive high school results. At the Division I stage, all comers boast similar trajectories.

"One of her strengths is she's a great student and a coachable athlete," Rayfield said. "Her ceiling is so far ahead of her. Her impact on this program is going to start slow and get big over time."

Johnson-Monfort's community involvement also extends to her faith, and she plans to join Illinois' Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Her annual exploits, to this end, include working with a soccer-associated FCA youth summer camp.

"It's two things that I love: I love teaching kids soccer," Johnson-Monfort said, "and I also love talking about God and spreading my faith, and hopefully getting more people into that."

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The walking boot Johnson-Monfort donned during the sectional semifinal already is a relic of the past.

She now wears a small black brace on that left ankle.

In a way, it's her last major tie to Mahomet-Seymour soccer.

But not really. Reflecting on four years representing the Bulldogs, Johnson-Monfort is aware just how much the sport has given her.

"I think the thing that I'm going to remember most is all the friendships I've made," she said. "Just because I know a lot of those girls, I wouldn't have met if I didn't have soccer. Some of them are just my best friends, and I wouldn't trade them for anything."

Hohenstein falls into that category.

Luckily, the future Parkland College soccer star won't have much distance separating her from Johnson-Monfort.

"Everyone on the team jokes about how we fight like an old married couple," Hohenstein said. "So I'm going to miss that. We always like to bicker at each other."

Tying this back to Johnson-Monfort's unfortunate case of deja vu, however, shows the role she played for the Bulldogs beyond just being dangerous with the ball on her foot.

And it displays what M-S will need to replace next season now that her stellar high school run is in the books.

"The fact that even though she was hurt (against U-High) and she was frustrated, she stood up and gave us hugs and said, 'Go out there, you've got this. I believe in you,'" Singleton said. "That's just as important as the people taking the PKs."

HONOR ROLL: NEWS-GAZETTE GIRLS’ SOCCER PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

YEAR ATHLETE SCHOOL

2018 Meredith Johnson-Monfort Mahomet-Seymour

2017 Meredith Johnson-Monfort Mahomet-Seymour

2016 Willa Olson Centennial

2015 Maddy Chalifoux Champaign Central

2014 Sarah Van Wingerden Mahomet-Seymour

2013 Dagny Olson Centennial

2012 Katelynn Martinez Centennial

2011 Chantal Meacham Centennial

2010 Dagny Olson Centennial

2009 Kelsie Donley Mahomet-Seymour

2008 Amanda Greco Champaign Central

2007 Liz Clegg Champaign Central

2006 Enca Houk Urbana

2005 Ashley Bolen Urbana

2004 Ella Masar Urbana

2003 Megan Bushue Centennial

2002 Tricia Johnson Centennial

2001 Brittany Ward Centennial

2000 Erica Peters Champaign Central

1999 Katie Stephens Urbana

1998 Katie Stephens Urbana

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