By FRED KRONER
A goal gets scored in a soccer match and is credited to one person.
At Mahomet-Seymour, one athlete has done that better than any player in school history. Senior
Meredith Johnson-Monfort reached the 100-goal career mark in a recent win over St. Thomas More.
Sometimes — on the stat sheet — her goals are assisted. Sometimes, they are not.
The fact is, she always has plenty of help.
Soccer is a sport where teams can mark specific individuals and double-team them in an effort to limit their effectiveness.
For Johnson-Monfort to continue scoring at a prolific level is a tribute to the players who surround her.
It’s a fact of which she is well aware.
“I have great teammates who get me a lot of great balls,” Johnson-Monfort said. “A lot of times I am set up perfectly by teammates who get me the ball right in front of the net.”
“A big part is teammates setting me up with opportunities.”
Beyond looking for her, other Bulldogs are capable of putting shots away as well.
This year’s team has 11 players with goals. Five of those other Bulldogs have netted at least four goals. That group includes Nyah Biegler, Erin Lenschow, Haley Lester, Mackenzie Moore and Maddy Wade.
At times, when Johnson-Monfort seems to be the center of opposing teams’ attention, M-S coach Joey Gruner removes her from the action.
“Coach will tell me to stand on the side and open up space for other girls,” Johnson-Monfort said. “If they have space, they can beat girls one-on-one.”
It is a formula that has proven effective.
The Bulldogs are 14-2 overall and closing in on last year’s school record for wins in a season in retiring coach Gruner’s final year at the helm.
“During the span of time in which Meredith scored 100 goals, her teammates scored an additional 211,” Gruner said. “Having multiple offensive threats spreads out the defensive focus and opens up more opportunities for every one of our players.
“Meredith herself has had 39 assists during this period of scoring 100 goals, so even a marking back has to worry about her creating space and then dishing it off to a different offensive teammate.
“All of this demonstrates our continued focus on team, rather than individual play. Different players will do unique things and standout in different ways, but a one-dimensional team is the easiest to defend, and we don’t want that.”
Throughout her career, the drive for Johnson-Monfort is to play the game, not to accumulate awards or statistics.
“I don’t remember my first (varsity) goal,” she said.
Most likely, she wouldn’t have been aware when No. 100 was about to occur.
“Someone mentioned it when I had 96,” she said. “Before that, I hadn’t thought about it.”
Johnson-Monfort’s 100th career goal came against St. Thomas More in the second half of a 3-2 win at home on April 20.
For the second time in three years, M-S trailed the Sabers at halftime, but rallied for a victory.
“I knew every goal would be essential to win,” Johnson-Monfort said. “Getting it against them made it that much sweeter.”
Her attitude and demeanor have helped to create an environment within the program that, she said, “has no drama,” this season.
“Meredith’s personality, positivity, and selfless work ethic all contribute greatly to positive team chemistry,” Gruner said. “Some players try to demand respect from their teammates, but the players on our team have seen what Meredith does on an off the field with her actions, and it’s pretty hard not to respect that.
“Nobody is perfect, and every one of us has those parts that focus on what is good for ourselves, but I think the other players know that Meredith really wants what is best for the team, the program, and her school.
“There have been a few games that come to my mind where her drive to win sort of took over, and it’s just her demonstrating, ‘I’m going to take care of this.’ “
There’s not pressure on Johnson-Monfort to score in order for the team to be successful.
“We have so many players who can fill roles and not just play for themselves,” she said. “I have confidence in all of our girls to score.”
Though she has played soccer for more than a decade — and it is a passion — it’s far from her only interest.
The vice-president of the National Honor Society student enjoys time with horses, is a volunteer at Crisis Nursery, is a member of the Student Council as well as the Spanish and Astronomy clubs and is a leader with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
”If I totally focused on soccer, I would have put too much pressure on myself and could have resented the sport,” she said. “The other things helped me not get burnt out.”
A voluntary venture before each match helps Johnson-Monfort maintain her perspective.
“We do a team prayer for everyone who wants to be involved,” Johnson-Monfort said. “The games are not for us.
“We play to honor God and that alleviates a lot of stress. I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my amazing teammates. Thanks to them and glory be to God.”
During the prime recruiting portion of her prep career, Johnson-Monfort was torn about whether to play soccer in college.
She plans to pursue a rigorous academic path as a pre-med major.
Sitting out while injured last summer helped cement her intentions.
“I realized I loved the sport and a huge part of my life would be missing,” Johnson-Monfort said. “I play everyday, even if there is no practice.”
The chance to play at what she called, “my dream school,” sealed the deal.
Johnson-Monfort has signed a letter of intent with the University of Illinois.
“Soccer clearly means a lot to Meredith, but I think her parents have done a great job of keeping their own proper perspective, and helping Meredith to do the same,” Gruner said. “She knows that losing a soccer game, in the long run, is not what determines her value as a person.
“Rather, it’s how she responds to that adversity. There were colleges who wanted Meredith to come and be their ‘star player,’ but Meredith had several other considerations besides soccer in her final choice of Illinois.”
There are no guarantees once she joins the UI program. Gruner is eager to see how she progresses.
“I can’t wait to see how Meredith’s abilities translate at the next level of Big Ten soccer,” Gruner said. “To be honest, I, and a couple of former U of I players, have advised her to focus on being ‘the hardest working player in the training sessions’ her first year, and not even begin to dream of time on the field during games.
“I’ve personally seen in the neighborhood of 150 Illini soccer training sessions over the past eight years, and I’m really anxious to see how Meredith competes in that environment. The coaches at Illinois are excited to give her this opportunity, but they have been very open about the fact that she will be training and competing with some of the best soccer players from not only the U.S., but from several other countries.
“It will be a big challenge for her, and the key will be how much she continues to develop with a much higher level of training and coaching.”
Before Johnson-Monfort switches to the Orange and Blue of the Illini, she hopes to wear the Orange and Blue representing her high school as long as possible.
“I love the sport and when I play, it is a blessing,” she said.
Next year will be a transition season for M-S girls’ soccer.
The program will lose seven members of the current senior class as well as a coach who has never had a losing season during his tenure.
“I’ve been considering retiring for two to three years now, and I almost did after last season,” Gruner said. “When I first started, just volunteering, it was nothing but fun.
“Fast forward 20 years, and the mental energy that it takes to coach a varsity level team, and to be competitive in game after game, is something I could only sustain for so long. It is literally a year-round process and sometimes, as my wife, Angie, says, I make it too stressful on myself.
“I love mentoring the players, and I love learning more about the game of soccer every year, but I just feel it is time for me to move on, with Angie, to other things. She is early-retiring this year, and I am pursuing other career possibilities with a Sport Management degree I earned in 2016. I’m ready to watch someone with renewed passion and energy take the M-S program to a new level.”