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Gautier soccer star transfers to Southern Miss

The Southern Miss women’s soccer program is getting a getting a big boost from a Coast product and one of the state’s best talents in the sport.

Former Gautier High School and Iowa State soccer player Ashley Johnson is transferring closer to home to play for first-year USM coach Mohammed El-Zare.

Johnson said Friday that she was drawn back to South Mississippi by USM’s hiring of El-Zare.

“That was a big contributing factor making the switch,” Johnson said. “Also, just being closer to home sounded nice. Iowa is so far away.”

She played youth soccer for El-Zare at the U-12 level for Gulf Coast United.

“Out of all the coaches I’ve had, he’s honestly my favorite coach,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited about playing for him.”

Johnson made the decision to transfer to USM in April. She will be eligible to play immediately at USM thanks to a soccer-specific rule that allows players a one-time transfer without having to sit out a year.

Johnson was selected as the Sun Herald Player of the Year after her senior season at Gautier when she put up gaudy numbers of 47 goals and 8 assists.

Johnson played two seasons at Iowa State, tying for third on the team in points with nine as a sophomore. She played in all 20 games that season, starting six.

Johnson played for Dean Joseph, who is now the head coach at Jackson State, during her time at Gautier, where she was an all-state and all-district performer.

Joseph expects Johnson to make an immediate impact at USM.

“She’ll bring some of the experience she gained at Iowa State,” Joseph said.. “She played in a big conference (in the Big 12). She’s a player that can play at the back or front. She’s versatile player. She’ll try to raise them to the next level at Southern Miss.”

Listed as a forward at Iowa State, Johnson said Friday that she wasn’t sure where she’d fit on the USM team.

“I really don’t know where (El-Zare) plans on playing me at this point,” Johnson said. “I guess it depends on what he needs. I feel like I can play anywhere. I’m not so much a center-mid. I feel like I can play defense or forward or outside mid.”

Johnson joins a USM program that’s been among the worst in Conference USA in recent seasons. Over the last three seasons, the Golden Eagles have a combined record of 11-39-6.

Players will report to school on Aug. 8 and practice will begin the next day. The season begins Aug. 23 at Arkansas State.

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