5-and-5: Five Goalies Who Taught Gussie Johns Everything She Knows

Welcome to “5-and-5,” a new series from US Lacrosse Magazine that features prominent athletes, coaches and personalities combining on-field perspective with off-field persona.

Gussie Johns, the former USC and current U.S. national team goalie, considers her success to be the product of several positive influences in her life and career.

“Everyone has heard the saying, ‘Like Mike.’ One wants to be the greatest of all time, just like Michael Jordan,” Johns wrote. “While I grew up watching and learning from so many great coaches and players, I focused more on taking elements of their play and incorporating them into mine, because I just wanted to be ‘Like Gussie’ when all was said and done.”

Who were Johns’ greatest influences? These are her words as written and excerpted from an interview with US Lacrosse Magazine’s Matt DaSilva.

Bo Johns

I started paying goalie because of my older brother Bo. I wanted to do everything he did growing up, so when I transitioned to playing girls’ lacrosse, I popped in the goal. We would shoot around daily in the backyard, which would usually end with him nailing me with a ball. From him, I have learned toughness and resilience, in more ways than one.

I grew up with three older brothers and played boys’ lacrosse until eighth grade. My dad actually started a youth league in the D.C. area. I saw my brother playing goalie and it looked interesting. In fifth grade, my dad took me over to finally play some girls’ lacrosse.

Looking up to my brother and wanting to be like him ... made me want to hop in the crease.

I would not the be player that I am today without Devon Wills. From the US Lacrosse clinic in fifth grade where I met her to USC to our time on U.S. together, she has taught me so much.

Devon Wills

Devon hands down has had the most influence on my career. From the way I drive out to the ball to the way I think about angles in the cage, so much of what I have learned has come from watching her play, being coached by her or being her teammate. I would not the be player that I am today without Devon. From the US Lacrosse clinic in fifth grade where I met her to USC to our time on U.S. together, she has taught me so much.

Right when I started playing in fifth grade, the U.S. national team came to a high school near me in Alexandria, Va., and held a clinic. Jess Wilk was actually the coach who was running the goalie side. She brought Devon over to meet me. I didn’t fully realize who she was then, but Jess talked to me about how great of a role model she could be and how much of a future she saw for Devon in the U.S. program.

Fast-forward four years, the summer after my freshman year, I’m at the Under Armour tournament and for my first college call, my high school coach Kathy Jenkins says, “Call Coach Devon Wills from USC.” She had just gotten out there to jumpstart the program with Lindsey Munday. She didn’t answer the phone, but I left a message and called her Coach Wills. And if anybody knows Devon, you know she does not go by Coach Wills. Now she’s very much Devon or Dev. I played for her four years at USC and learned more than I ever could have expected. And then I got to share the crease with her on the U.S. team in 2017.

After the World Cup in England, she was like, “I’m done. That’s how I’m ending my career in the goal.” She switched over to defense for The World Games in Poland. It was a passing of the torch from her to me in that sense.

Coming from USC — I know this because she does a lot with us in practice — she loves to check. And she’s a very good checker. But sometimes she gets a big swing on her. We’re in a game against Canada, and she takes a big tomahawk swing and gets a yellow card. Ricky Fried tells me, “You have to tell her to stop swinging.” And I’m like, “Nope. Can’t do that.” It’s just funny, a complete role reversal and very much a symbolic passing of the torch. It’s a full-circle thing. It’s a surreal story in a lot of ways. I’m thankful for the relationship I’ve had with her and all that she’s taught me over the years.

Jess Wilk

Jess Wilk has not only helped me with the technical elements of my game, but more importantly, she has helped me hone in on the mental side of the position. The mental aspect of being a goalie is an area that is often neglected, but one that I would argue is increasingly important as you get to higher levels in the sport. She constantly reiterates to me that I should always focus on being the best me each time I step out on the field and that I should talk to myself like I would talk to one of my teammates, with care and encouragement.

Jess harps so much on how you play mentally within the cage and how big of a component that is once you get to the elite level. She always told me to talk to myself like I would talk to a teammate. I never really understood that until I took a step back. The goalie position is so hard. It’s so mental. It’s secluding in a lot of ways. Being able to have someone who really focused on that piece of the game so much in the way that she taught was essential to my success.


Adam Ghitelman

Adam Ghitelman and John Galloway (below) are two goalies I grew up watching on TV. With three older brothers, I watched a lot of men’s lacrosse when I was younger.

From Adam, I have learned a lot about clearing and movement outside of the cage, how to best utilize my athletic abilities and how to be aggressive yet calculated. He comes out of the crease in so many creative ways. While some people may think he is not controlled, he is so calculated when he does it. He knows exactly what he is doing. He is in control when he’s out of the cage. That’s the biggest piece that has transferred to my game.


John Galloway

From John, I have learned patience and presence in the goal. He has an air and poise about him when he plays that is hard to teach. He is so fundamentally focused and just patient in the way that he plays. I saw great value in that.

I have always tried to pull a mixture of John’s patience and Adam’s abilities outside of the cage into my game. While these can be hard things to balance, they are both factors that I feel are critical to my play.

Those two guys are so defining of their position for two very different reasons. Adam is the more adventurous-out-of-the-cage spontaneous goalie, and John is more of the fundamental-based, patient guy. Watching the two of them — two very polar opposite goalies but both very successful at a high level — I wanted to try to take some of what they did and bring it into my game.

Gussie Johns’ Sole Train
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