Ali Johnstone has been the head coach of Ohio’s field hockey team since the 2018 season, returning to the staff after spending six seasons at Northwestern. However, Johnstone’s journey with the Bobcats began before her coaching career. Johnstone played for Ohio during her college career and left as one of the most prominent field hockey players in Bobcat history.
Johnstone began playing field hockey when she was eight years old and her parents signed her up to burn off some of her energy. The older she got, the more invested in field hockey she became. Soon enough, she was trying out for the Olympics.
“I got selected for certain teams and I kept following this path,“ Johnstone said. “It was my goal to play in the Olympics, and that never happened but it was my goal for 20 years of my life.”
When she decided to enroll in college she found Ohio University, the Athens community and the many opportunities it would hold for her.
“Athens is such a small town, the community is really embedded within the university and athletics is embedded in the university itself,“ Johnstone said. “I come from a small town, so it just has that same feeling of safety and comfort.”
This community allowed Johnstone to blossom as a player. She eventually became the first Bobcat to win All-MAC honors in each of her four seasons in Athens and was honored as Ohio Female Student-Athlete of the Year in 2001. Johnstone also set the career record for assists (36), ranks third in all-time points (106) and fourth in career goals (35).
After graduation, Johnstone played field hockey professionally for several different teams. She was a member of the Canadian National Team and other professional clubs, giving her the opportunity to see the world.
“I got to travel Mozambique and Botswana, I played in a pro league and lived in Germany for a year, and I played in Australia and lived in Australia for a year”.
Eventually, Johnstone would find her way back to Athens, but this time as an Assistant Coach. With her help, the Bobcats won the Mid-American Conference in 2009 and went to the semifinals of the conference tournament in 2010. Johnstone left Ohio after the 2010 season, spending the next six seasons at Northwestern. She was the associate head coach for the Wildcats during her last four years and helped the team to earn two Big Ten titles.
In 2017, Johnstone returned to where she had been most successful. That November, Ohio announced that Johnstone would be the new field hockey head coach.
“Seeing the people here now that were here when I was a player is reassuring that it really is a family and its special to be apart of,“ Johnstone said.
Coach Johnstone looks to continue the tradition of family and excellence in the program, something that she was able to experience as a player. Now in her third season as Head Coach for the Bobcats, she believes that she’s found just that.
“Coaching this age group, you get to meet some amazing young women and you get to see their transition because they come in straight from high school very nervous,“ Johnstone said. “But by the time they graduate, to see them grow into confident young women is the best part of this job for sure.”
This season will allow Johnstone and her staff to bond with the players more due to fall sports being moved to the spring.
“It's certainly different. Normally we have two weeks to prepare and it's a whole new team. I've always wondered what it was like for spring sports to have a preparation before they actually play, to get to know the freshman and actually let them go through the transition.”
Despite having to overcome several obstacles, her main goal as a coach remains the same. She wants to produce strong, confident women while winning MAC championships as much as possible. Her staff works to create an environment for her players to become leaders, and not just as a captain.
Coach Johnstone has been a key part of Ohio’s field hockey program for years, whether as a former player or as a coach. She understands the value of community and fosters it with her team each and every day. Coach Johnstone and the Bobcats will be back in action for their first game of the season on Mar. 12 at Miami.