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Top water polo goalie turns down Olympic prospects for Princeton

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Ashleigh Johnson is among the best female water polo goalies in the nation at any level. While that talent has opened numerous doors to the teen, it also left her athletic career at a crossroads: Johnson, who was offered a scholarship at Princeton, had to choose between honoring her academic pledge or heading to California to likely land a spot on a future U.S. Olympic squad.

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Ransom Everglades goalie Ashleigh Johnson — Orlando Sentinel

Ransom Everglades goalie Ashleigh Johnson — Orlando Sentinel

As reported by ESPN, after some deliberation, the recent graduate of Miami (Fla.) Ransom Everglades High turned down the best chance for glory in Brazil come 2016 for what is perceived to be a brighter academic future.

"I chose Princeton because I want to be a doctor and I want to be challenged academically," Johnson told ESPN. "I don't want my whole life to be water polo."

Indeed, the West Coast water polo scene can be all encompassing, which the 6-foot-1 Johnson decided was more than she was willing to entertain. By playing on the East Coast in high school, Johnson was already too far afield from the national radar to warrant serious consideration for the 2012 London Games.

The assumption, however, was that playing college water polo in California would launch her toward an almost certain spot in the 2016 Rio de Janiero Games. Now that won't be the case, though Johnson won't give up on Olympic dreams altogether, either.

While a Princeton education might force the future Tiger into a less direct route to the Olympics, that still might not keep her out of the team's goal come 2016. In 2011, Johnson was the goalie for the U.S. Youth National Team, where she turned heads and earned a reputation for making incredible athletic saves.

"She has excellent height and long arms," Lefebvre told ESPN. "She is also very strong, smart and flexible -- she can do a full split -- and she has the quickness of someone 5-5.

"People say, 'Hey, they're shooting right at her.' But that's because she anticipates shots and understands tendencies. She knows what the shooter wants to do. That's why she doesn't have to lunge at the last second to make a save."

While the water polo establishment might be concerned that four years on the East Coast will dim that edge because of lesser competition, both Johnson's past and future coaches insist she has the talent to compete at the 2016 Games if she wants to, even if she deliberately stays away from the national team circuit for a few years.

And with Princeton in the offing, Johnson may be in the best shape for a bright future anyway, both in the pool as an expected four-year varsity starter and in the classroom, where a Princeton career can put her in prime position for a spot at a top medical school.

"Water polo is not going to pay your bills -- it's that degree," [Princeton water polo coach Luis] Nicolao says. "Most of our Olympians at Princeton are postgraduate, and there's no question Ashleigh has the ability."

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