Amanda Johansen is Finally Playing Free

PHOTO BY KAIT DEVIR / ATHLETES UNLIMITED


Amanda Johansen was ready to step on the field for the inaugural season of Athletes Unlimited. She had a long layoff after the WPLL had canceled the 2020 season. The league shuttered, further delaying her return to the field.

Johansen jumped at the opportunity to continue her professional career when Athletes Unlimited announced it would add lacrosse, but an ankle injury while training with the U.S. women’s national team set her back.

“I was super down about it,” Johansen said. “I felt like I had just started playing again, and I was at my best.”

Johansen called the AU staff and stressed she still wanted a chance to stay involved and potentially get on the field. They offered her a spot as a facilitator, telling her she’d be able to help captains with lineups and strategy as needed.

Meanwhile, Johansen rehabbed with Tim Stone at True Sports Maryland and watched and learned from the athletes on the field. She finally got to suit up for the final two weeks of the four-week season and finished second in the league with five two-point goals.

But her first job was winning the draw when she learned AU was a whole different ball game.

“[The circle] is a scary place to be,” Johansen said. “Everyone is going at each other. I learned right away that you’ve got to be strong, fit and physical and OK with contact.”

Luckily for the 5-foot-11 Johansen, the league’s physicality fit right into her hand.

“At the AU level, it’s a little different with the rules,” Johansen said. “You get away with a lot more. I have size. I’m almost 6 feet tall. I’m strong. If you can take contact and figure out a way to cause turnovers in a legal way, it can make you a really good player at this level.”

It also opens the door for Johansen to stand out rather than fit in, a departure from the former USC star’s previous lacrosse experiences.

“I think I can show a little more,” Johansen said. “It’s not a system you are fitting into. You can go out there, do the little things, get your points.”

The shift is a mental one, too.

“I’m here to have fun and love it, versus other pressure situations where I might get cut or not make this team,” Johansen said. “Going into this, I knew I was here and had the opportunity.”







Johansen did recently get cut from the U.S. team. But she didn’t enter the 2022 AU season feeling like she had something to prove.

“I’m not somebody who plays with a chip on their shoulder,” Johansen said. “[The world championship] was obviously a dream and would have been amazing, but at the end of the day, they crushed it. I’m really proud of them for how they represented our country.”

Johansen credits training with the U.S. team for helping her prepare for the AU season. But, unlike the players who competed in the world championship or entered the league as rookies after playing their final collegiate seasons, Johansen needed to find other opportunities to prepare. She went for long runs and got outside with a stick in her hand. She also re-committed to the game and reminded herself of why she continues playing it.

“I think sometimes when it is taken away, you find more opportunity to go back to your roots and find the reason why,” Johansen said.

Once again, it all comes down to being free to be herself.

“I am a shy person,” Johansen said. “I don’t love attention. When I play sports, I feel like it brings out my true self. I have so much fun doing it. I feel super-free on the field. I can’t seem to put the stick down.”

And now, Johansen is the one making decisions. As a captain for the second week in a row, she’s had the opportunity to play general manager and create her own team and a system that allows everyone to thrive.

“My mindset is I am going to get a leader at each position, and then I am going to go from there,” Johansen said. “It’s not difficult to be a captain and leader on the field because you are surrounded by so many great teammates. I feel super-respected by everyone. I want to hear what other people think and then make a plan going forward.”

Part of that plan involves humility. Johansen is currently fourth on the leaderboard, but she’s not afraid to defer to her teammates if she feels she’s not lifting them up.

“I don’t have a problem running off the field for a sub if I feel like, in the moment, I am not at my best,” Johansen said. “I never want to say, ‘I could’ve done more.’”

But the truth is, Johansen has done a lot — all over the field. She’s second in draws (20) and  tied for third in the league in goals (10) and caused turnovers (eight).

“I am going to try to make a play and do what it takes to win,” Johansen said. “I want the ground ball. I don’t want someone to score if I am marking them. I am going to do what it takes in the draw circle to win. Those things are rewarded into the win.”

Johansen isn’t focused on individual titles as the back-half of the season begins, though. Her strategy is all about the ride and picking up team wins.

“I just want to keep enjoying it and having fun and learning more about my teammates, and I would like to keep getting quarter wins and game wins,” Johansen said.

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Amanda Johansen is Finally Playing Free

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