Iowa soccer’s Maggie Johnston perseveres through adversity

The center midfielder and right back has dealt with two torn hip labrums during her first two seasons as a Hawkeye but expects to be fully healthy for her junior campaign.


Dimia Burrell

University of Iowa celebrates their win during a soccer game between Iowa and Minnesota at the UI Soccer Complex on Thursday Oct. 21, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers 1-0.

Isaac Goffin, Sports Reporter

The Iowa soccer program has a saying for its student-athletes about adversity and effort.

“You might not be at 100 percent but give us 100 percent of what you have.”

That’s how Iowa head coach Dave DiIanni described Maggie Johnston, who’s entering her junior season with the Hawkeyes. She’s expected to be fully healthy in time for the 2022 season after dealing with injuries throughout her freshman and sophomore campaigns.

Not long before the Hawkeyes commenced their Big Ten Tournament championship run in spring 2021, Johnston was diagnosed with a torn left hip labrum. She decided to stop competing immediately and underwent surgery.

While recovering from surgery, Johnston discovered her right hip’s labrum was torn. Instead of sitting out the fall 2021 slate, she appeared in 16 of Iowa’s 20 matches, starting eight while recording one goal and two assists.

“It was definitely tough, but I knew what I had to do to play,” Johnston said. “I always wanted to have a full season and I really didn’t get that my freshman year. And to make a name for myself, I knew I had to get through what I was going through.”

A lifelong midfielder, Johnston competed at that position in her freshman season. But in her sophomore season, she switched to right back after she sustained an injury at midfield.

“She was open to learning,” DiIanni said. “She wanted to get on the field. Again, a characteristic that you wished more of your players have. But Maggie was open to playing anywhere as long as she could play.”

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DiIanni noted Johnston asked the right questions, which in turn, made the Hawkeyes stronger and helped them place their best players on the pitch even if it meant competing at a different position.

Johnston, who’s from Corona, Calif., said the soccer style is different in the Midwest. Because of the technique variations, Johnston has found it easier to thrive as a right back than a midfielder at Iowa.

Johnston said the style of play in the midwest is more physical.

“If you don’t get the ball off your foot within five seconds, you will get ran over. I would get ran over all the time in the midfield and I realized that my speed of play wasn’t where it needed to be,” Johnston said. “As a right back, people would blow me up and now I’m blowing other people up, so it’s a lot better for me.”
When Johnston moved to the back line, fellow defender Sara Wheaton was situated next to her. Johnston said the captain instructed her throughout matches and didn’t think she would have been as successful without Wheaton’s assistance.

As for where Johnston will play during her third go-around with the Hawkeyes, DiIanni said the top priority for her is to make sure she’s healthy by the start of fall practice and throughout the season. Then, the plan is for her to play at right back or center midfielder while she improves tactically with the game slowing down for her.

“She is competitive, she is driven, she is frustrating, but only because she wants to be the best she can be all the time,” DiIanni said. “I would rather work with somebody who I had to pull back the reins on than somebody that I have to prod to be competitive and intense.”