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julia kato feature

Julia Kato’s evolution as a leader

The women’s soccer goalkeeper has grown into a reliable leader since starting as a freshman

Women’s soccer goalkeeper Julia Kato was thrust into the spotlight two years ago, when she earned a spot in the starting lineup as a freshman. Now a junior, she has started every single game for her team since arriving at American University. 

A product of Jacksonville, Florida, Kato grew up playing soccer from when she was just three years old. She played for her hometown club Jacksonville FC, all while juggling high school basketball. 

But when the time for college recruitment came around, Kato decided that playing soccer at American was exactly what she wanted to do. “It felt like the stars aligned,” she said. 

Kato joined the team in the 2021-2022 season and made an immediate impact, earning 69 saves and becoming sixth in the program’s history for consecutive shutout minutes. 

The goalkeeper position inherently demands leadership on the field, and Kato said it took her some time to adjust. “I was trying to find my voice as a freshman, as a starter and as a goalkeeper,” she said. 

Kato’s confidence in her leadership has grown since then. Her sophomore year, she said she was able to step into her role more and demand more of her teammates. Her influence on and off the field paid off, as she was voted captain by her teammates for her junior season. “My teammates expect a lot out of me and I appreciate that from them,” she said. 

This season, the Eagles finished seventh in the Patriot League, with an overall record of 3-9-4 — an improvement from finishing eighth and ninth in Kato’s first two seasons. A tiebreaker with Colgate prevented them from taking the sixth and final playoff spot. 

Despite this, Kato played a critical role on her team — both as a player and a leader. She recorded a total of 61 saves and five clean sheets. Her calm demeanor and ability to step up in difficult moments was key to the Eagles’ competitiveness. 

“She has made saves, critically, in almost all of our games that have given our team that wake-up moment,” head coach Marsha Harper said. Harper also cited Kato’s reliable distribution of the ball — both with her hands and feet —  as a reason she maintains her starting spot in goal. 

Looking ahead to her senior season, Kato aims to finish off her career on a strong note. The women’s soccer program has shown continual progress over the past several years, steadily climbing in the Patriot League rankings. Kato says she’s optimistic about the team’s ability and their progress in moving the ball, but their biggest goal is to secure results — something they have struggled with in recent years. 

“We have really good moments, and then we stoop very low … like a wave,” Kato said. “We want to ride that high.” 

Kato is dedicated to progressing in her sport, but she also works hard off the field studying Data Sciences for Justice, Law and Criminology. Her academic efforts have earned her Patriot League Academic Honor Roll two years in a row.

In her free time, she coaches youth soccer for the local D.C. Soccer Club. “I find it super rewarding because a lot of people in my life who have been the most influential are my coaches,” she said.

As senior captain, Kato hopes to maintain a positive team dynamic and the sense of family her team immediately provided her when she stepped on campus as a freshman. She hopes her teammates see her as loyal, steady and funny. 

“She’s always checking the culture and the temperature of her teammates, and making sure that they’re on the right path,” Harper said. She has enjoyed watching Kato’s confidence in her leadership develop and would love to see her take hold of more key moments to rally the team as senior captain. 

“We’re happy to have her behind the sticks for us,” Harper said. 

This article was edited by Penelope Jennings, Delaney Hoke and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Luna Jinks. 

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