Strumming a sweet student-athlete tune

When Kesley Johnson is smothered in spiral notebooks and stacks of sports schedules, she “Gets Back.”

Listening to the closing track on the Beatles album “Let it Be” (1970), Johnson says, is an ease from the rigors of her life, which has been a swamp of school and sport for the past four years.

“If I was stressed out by either school, sports or both, I could go into my own little world and listen to music or play music,” said Johnson, who graduated from Bremerton High School in June. “You listen to music and rededicate yourself because it’s inspiring.”

A fan of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin — and, broadly, the 1960-70s music scene — Johnson plays guitar, piano and sings. She was a two-sport athlete for the Lady Knights, starring on the girls soccer and basketball teams, and graduated with a 3.53 grade point average as a member of the National Honor Society.

The academically minded musician-athlete, who will attend Western Washington University this fall, is the 2008-09 Bremerton Patriot Student-Athlete of the Year.

“School is important,” said Johnson, who plans to study psychology or marine biology at Western. “I knew that going into sports.”

A member of a sports-minded family — her older brother, Kyle, plays for the Kitsap Pumas, the county’s first fully professional soccer franchise — Johnson discovered soccer when she was 4 years old and basketball when she was 10.

She dabbled in gymnastics, fastpitch and “just about everything else” along the way, but always returned to soccer, her favorite and “best” sport.

“I stuck with soccer the longest and I was more dedicated to it,” Johnson said. “If I had to choose a game on the same day between (soccer and basketball), I would go with soccer.”

In seventh grade Johnson joined the Bremerton 0’niners soccer team under then-coach Lance McCoy, who Johnson praised for being dedicated to his players — on and off the field — and for helping her to a fruitful career. McCoy, who retired from his head-coaching position at Bremerton following the 2008 season, also coached Johnson during her four years in high school.

“He really wanted to see us grow as people, and in soccer,” Johnson said of McCoy. “He was just really dedicated to his players.”

Johnson sustained a broken arm prior to her freshman season, choosing to play with a cast. As a sophomore, she was sidelined midway through the season with a torn meniscus.

But in Johnson’s sixth and final season under McCoy , Bremerton secured its first girls soccer postseason victory since 1987, culminating a season in which she was named to the All-Olympic League Girls Soccer First Team.

A defender who McCoy called “very fast and incredibly determined,” Johnson anchored the Knights’ back line, which allowed seven goals over the final eight games of the season. She also was named to the 2008 All-Kitsap County Girls Soccer Team.

“She’s been an awesome kid to coach, truly one of the finest players I’ve ever coached,” McCoy said. “Kelsey is tough as nails. She is a gamer.”

With a combined seven Honors and Advanced Placement high school courses under her belt, Johnson doesn’t plan to pursue soccer or basketball — she was second on the BHS girls basketball team in points per game (9.3) and first in steals (44) in 2008 — at college.

The lifelong Bremerton resident plans to visit Paris with a friend next winter. She visited Italy on a 10-day choir trip last spring to share American music with her Italian counterparts. Ultimately, she hopes to begin a career that will allow her to travel the world.

Her advice to Bremerton’s student-athletes is simple:

“Just know that if you want to go anywhere with sports in the first place, a college won’t accept you if you don’t have good grades. So you have to find that balance. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it, you just have to.”

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