(Maryville) -- The first two years of Cleo Johnson's soccer career were far from ideal. But she made up for lost time and concludes her prep days as the KMAland Missouri Girls Player of the Year.
Johnson ultimately left her mark on the Maryville program, but there was a time when that looked in doubt.
She was a key contributor to the Spoofhounds during her freshman year but suffered a season-ending injury. Johnson expected big things in her sophomore season but never got a chance because of COVID. However, she shined in her two full seasons in Maryville.
"I had a great start to freshman year," she said. "Missing half of my freshman year was a bummer. I didn't enjoy soccer, but I enjoyed it once I got to my junior and senior years. They were some of the best memories of my high school years."
In hindsight, Johnson admits the early woes in her career were disappointing.
"I always had club soccer," she said. "But I wanted to stand out in high school soccer. The season got canceled after I built up the excitement of playing again. It was such a disappointment. Soccer has been my whole life. I can't imagine not playing."
The shortcomings motivated Johnson for the final two years, which led her to an impressive career and a collegiate opportunity at Wayne State.
"I wanted to focus on getting into a college," she said.
Johnson was an All-State choice as a junior and led the Spoofhounds to the state tournament in her junior and senior seasons. She ended her senior season with 22 goals and 23 assists. Johnson's strong season earned her multiple accolades, but she's quick to credit her teammates.
"It was the girls around me that helped me grow as a teammate," she said. "They helped me have fun on the field. I appreciate them so much. The senior girls are really close. Us being on the field at the same time, the chemistry was insane. I don't like to score that much, but my offensive skill improved because of the girls around me."
With her prep career done, Johnson chooses to remember the people and relationships rather than the matches or goals.
"I'm going to cherish the memories I created at practices and on road trips to games," she said. "Those were the best times."
Johnson leaves the program in a better place than she found it.
"I feel like I definitely left a hole for someone to step in and take place," she said. "I feel like some girls are coming up that can take that spot and keep the program going."
Johnson is the inaugural winner of the KMAland Missouri Girls Soccer Player of the Year Award. Check out her full interview below.