PORT ANGELES — Grace Johnson’s dreams came through at Peninsula College.
And her goals were met. Literally.
Now she’s moving on to bigger horizons beginning next fall.
Johnson, the leading goal-scorer for the Pirates women’s soccer team, signed a letter of intent to play at Humboldt State in Arcata, Calif., last week.
It was an offer she had on the table early this year. But Johnson, who is from Nordland and played for Chimacum High School, had other plans.
The Pirates lost in the NWAC championship in fall 2019 1-0 in an overtime heartbreaker.
Then the championship season was wiped out in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Peninsula College women only played seven games in spring 2020 in a truncated season.
However, players were allowed an extra year of eligibility. With a full-ride soccer scholarship on the table, Johnson had to make a tough decision in July. Move on to play at an NCAA Division II school, or stay at Peninsula College and play a third season?
Johnson chose Peninsula College.
“I could not shake this competitive feeling,” she said. “It really was important for me to win a championship.”
Johnson knew the Pirates had a special team. She was one of 13 sophomores who returned for a third season, determined to win an NWAC title and make up for how the 2019 season ended.
This wasn’t the best offensive team the Pirates have ever had, but it turned into probably the best defensive team in the entire history of the NWAC. This year’s team allowed a total of three goals, including postseason, had 14 shutouts in 17 games and at one point went 950 straight minutes, not counting stoppage time, without allowing a goal.
Johnson led the Pirates in goals, despite coming from a tiny community on Marrowstone Island and playing high school sports at a tiny 1A program that hasn’t been eliminated exactly, but has since been combined with Port Townsend for a dual-school team.
“I didn’t even know Peninsula College had a soccer team,” Johnson said. “I came from such a small community. I was a big fish in a small pond.”
She added a go-ahead goal in the 89th minute in the NWAC semifinal to send the Pirates to the finals with a 2-1 win over Columbia Basin. It was a sharp-angle shot from well out that got past the goalkeeper.
Johnson admitted it wasn’t an intentional shot.
“I wasn’t planning on shooting, I was trying to put the ball in the box. I thought I had missed it. I couldn’t believe it when it went in,” she said.
Johnson collapsed to the ground after her shot went in, overcome with emotion.
Peninsula had actually been behind in that game. After the Pirates tied it, Johnson said, “I was really determined to win. There was no way we were going out like this. There was no way we were losing.”
Two days later in the NWAC finals against Clark, Johnson was also in the middle of the winning goal. She back-tapped a throw-in in the 82nd minute, intending to set herself up for a shot just outside the box.
Her teammate Miya Clarke, who hadn’t scored a goal all year, swooped and yelled to Johnson, “I got it!”
“I trusted her and let it go,” Johnson said.
Clarke scored to put the Pirates ahead, with Johnson getting the assist.
And the ties between Clarke and Johnson continue. Humboldt State kept its offer on the table and Johnson committed to the school during the fall season. A few weeks later, Clarke also decided to play soccer for Humboldt.
To stick around another year, win the championship after 2019’s heartbreak, and still get to play for Humboldt State, Johnson said, “I’m very, very grateful.”
Johnson said she loved the area. The campus reminded her of Peninsula College and the area is very similar to the Olympic Peninsula. It’s heavily wooded, mountainous, cool in the summer and rainy in the winter, somewhat isolated and right near Redwood National Park.