Estelle Johnson, a four-year anchor on some of the most stifling defensive units in KU soccer history, this week launched her FIFA World Cup dreams as a member of the Cameroon National Team, which opened its Group E play against Canada Monday in Montpellier, France.
Johnson, c’11, who grew up in Colorado, is eligible for the Cameroon squad because she was born in the Central African country to an American father and Malian mother. Her father, Jerry, worked with subsistence farmers across the continent until moving the family to Fort Collins for a job at Colorado State University when Estelle was 7.
“I had been thinking about playing for Cameroon since 2015,” Johnson told the Sun newspaper, of Edmonton, Canada, shortly before the Cameroon-Canada match, “when I saw them play in the last World Cup.”
Johnson appeared in all 85 games of her four-year KU career, from 2006 to 2009, and was named to multiple All-Region teams. She began her professional career with the short-lived Philadelphia Independence, then stepped away from the game for graduate school at Avila University in Kansas City. After earning her MBA, Johnson returned to professional soccer with the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington Spirit; she now plays with New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC.
Johnson was unable to reach any team officials in Cameroon until coach Alain Djeumfa took over in January, and she didn’t make her first international appearance with Cameroon until shortly before the World Cup began.
“I’ve been playing professionally now for nine seasons, so I’ve played with some of the best players in the world,” Johnson told the Fort Collins Coloradoan. “Just watching them achieve this and knowing I can hang with them … that’s when it hit me: I think I can do this and I want to actually try to make this happen.”
Cameroon advanced to the second round in its first World Cup four years ago in Canada. After Monday’s match, a 1-0 loss, Johnson and her Cameroon teammates face the Netherlands on Saturday and New Zealand on June 20.
Each spring Kansas senior student-athletes experience one of the proudest traditions bestowed upon a Jayhawk—receiving their K Rings.
After years of competition in the Crimson and Blue, practices and classes, triumphs and defeats, the senior class joins a group of extraordinary individuals who have poured their hearts and souls into their sports and studies.
The K Ring symbolizes a uniquely shared experience among generations of varsity letter-winners at Kansas. For senior rower Bailey Blood, it was an opportunity to celebrate the connection of three generations in her family.
Bailey received her K Ring April 22 on the tail end of her fourth season with Kansas rowing. For the special occasion, she honored her late grandfather, Bill Cole, by wearing his Kansas letter sweater—another treasured item earned by Jayhawks during his competition days.
Let’s get this out of the way right up top: Yes, KU has a hockey team. It’s not varsity competition, but it is the next-highest level, University-sponsored club sports, which compete against teams from other schools. As documented a year ago in Kansas Alumni magazine, the hockey ‘Hawks, who play in Independence, Missouri, have made a mighty resurgence, and this season has been their best yet.
The Jayhawks completed their American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 3 schedule 20-0-1, capped by a two-game sweep at the U.S. Air Force Academy Feb. 1 and 2. Next up: a pride game against Division 2 Mizzou, Feb. 21 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
“Mizzou has been struggling all year,” says junior Jimmy Samuels, KU’s club president, “but they’re going to be a whole new team when they step on the ice against Kansas, and we’re not going to hold back, either. It’s much more than just a game. It’s a historic college rivalry and we’re one of the few sports that gets to continue that tradition.”
The ice ‘Hawks feature two of the ACHA’s top-10 scorers, who both hail from Overland Park: sophomore Dane Johnson, who has a dazzling 38 goals and 30 assists in 19 games, and junior linemate Dawson Engle, with 28 goals and 34 assists in 21 games. Close behind is hard-charging team leader Preston McConnell, a senior from Liberty, Missouri, who sports 16 goals and 21 assists in 17 games.
“Give a lot of credit to [coach Andy McConnell, j’16],” Samuels says. “He really analyzed each line and their chemistry. He has matched each line with their speed, chemistry, passing abilities, positioning, everything. Every line has great potential to produce amazing plays.”
KU and Mizzou are both depending on strong fan support at the game, which faithfully replicates the intense border contests of old. The ‘Hawks, however, also need fan and alumni support to help them travel their next challenge: the ACHA playoffs.
If, as expected, KU is awarded a bye for the first round of regionals, KU would likely head to the Division 3 finals in Frisco, Texas, at the end of March.
KU’s club sports fund awarded the hockey team $9,000 for its $60,000 annual budget at the start of the season, with the rest being covered by players, their families, and a few faithful supporters. Now the Jayhawks are looking at a likely bill of $15,000 to rent a team bus to travel to and from Texas, secure hotel rooms and buy meals.
They have raised $6,000, and are asking fellow Jayhawks to assist the hard-earned journey by contributing through a GoFundMe account. All donations go directly to the club’s account at KU Endowment.
KU-Mizzou T-shirts will be available at the Feb. 21 game, as will team hats and pucks. Team officials are still working with vendors to produce a KU hockey game jersey available for purchase, but that won’t happen soon enough to help cover expenses for the Texas trip.
Samuels says players and their families will have to cover any budgetary shortfalls for the trip to nationals; should there be a surplus, any remaining funds would carry over and help alleviate player costs next season.
“It’s been a crazy ride the past few months,” Samuels says. “It’s been awesome, and there’s still more to come.”
Photo: KU hockey’s leading scorers, sophomore Dane Johnson (19) and junior Dawson Engle (25).
Read more about the KU Hockey team in the January 2018 issue of Kansas Alumni Magazine.
Money was tight for Joanie DeGraw Jones and her family in the late 1960s, so she was only able to spend her freshman year at KU before returning home and completing her nursing studies in Kansas City, Kansas.
Jones, ’72, made the most of her limited time on the Hill, however, joining the Frosh Hawks pep club and cheering on the football ’Hawks as they stormed through a one-loss 1968 season on their way to a Big Eight championship and a trip to the Jan. 1, 1969, Orange Bowl in Miami.
While watching classmates pile into southbound cars, buses and trains for a trip she could not afford, Jones consoled herself by purchasing two keepsakes: a short-sleeved KU Orange Bowl sweatshirt and the custom-pressed single “Hawk it to ’Em,” by The Tips.
“I am really sad that I didn’t get to finish all four years,” says Jones, now retired from a long nursing career at Providence Medical Center, “but I treasure my things from there.”
She recently pulled the mint-condition sweatshirt and red-vinyl record from a sealed bag tucked safely in the back of her closet, where they’d been stored for 50 years, and asked her children what they might do with the mementos if they inherited them.
“They really couldn’t give me an answer,” Jones says, “and I thought, you know what? I’m just going to call [University Archives, in Spencer Research Library], and the lady said, ‘We don’t have anything like that. We’d love to have it.’ I wanted it be somewhere where it will be taken care of and treasured.”
Jones’ sweatshirt and record recently joined University Archives’ student life collection, significantly boosting KU’s holdings of 1969 Orange Bowl items, including photographs, negatives and color slides donated by the Alumni Association (which can be viewed with an “Orange Bowl” search here); a media guide and game program; and an as-new carry-on bag given to travelers by Maupintour.
“This is one of the best collections that we have that reflects student life at the time,” says Archivist Becky Schulte, c’76. “We don’t really have this much for any other athletic event that I know of. This is really exceptional. These photos of players with fans, signing autographs, lounging by the pool, we just don’t get that kind of stuff.”
As for her own keepsakes, Jones says she “treasured them all this time,” but she’s glad she decided to donate them to University Archives while she’s still here to savor the satisfaction of her decision to pass them along for sharing and safekeeping.
“I’m glad I’m alive to enjoy what I’ve done,” Jones says, “rather than donating after somebody passes away. I wanted to see that they benefited somebody else.”
At 6-feet-2, 250 pounds, former KU defensive lineman and part-time fullback TJ Semke knew he was just about the perfect size and body type to play fullback in the NFL. He also knew that NFL offenses no longer feature fullbacks, so career prospects were slim at best.
“That dream kind of died out,” Semke, d’16, says from the North Carolina headquarters of Hendrick Motorsports. “But I still wanted to do something that would keep me competitive and have that locker room feel, be around the guys, and NASCAR ended up being a good fit for that.”
Thrill of victory
Now in his second season with Hendrick Motorsports and his first on the pit crew team for Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet, Semke on Aug. 5 got to experience the thrill of victory when Elliott held off the determined Martin Truex Jr. on the Watkins Glen International road course.
It was win No. 1 for Elliott, a third-year driver and son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, and the 250th in the illustrious racing history of Hendrick Motorsports, and nobody celebrated more enthusiastically in victory lane than a jackman from Kansas City who just a few years earlier knew next to nothing about auto racing.
“It was pretty special for Chase to get his first win, and it was the 250th for the company, which is a big deal,” Semke says. “All the pieces fell together and it ended up being a big deal. It was definitely good vibes coming back to work on Monday.”
An unusual path
Even before he became a professional athlete in NASCAR, Semke’s route through athletics was unusual and his story unique.
Semke fractured a vertebra during his junior season at Lee’s Summit North High School; he made it through his senior season while constantly fighting through “a lot of issues with my discs.” When his doctors finally told him to stop playing football, Semke complied and turned down offers to play at Division II colleges.
He grew up a “big MU guy,” and shocked his family when he came to Lawrence and enrolled at KU as a full-time student.
“Something drew me there,” Semke says. “I liked the school when I went on a visit, so I just went there.”
Ripe for recruitment
An energetic and successful student in high school, Semke likewise threw himself into his studies on the Hill, and even worked part-time for his mother’s boyfriend’s bail bond business, tracking down absconders who skipped court dates.
Although work as a bounty hunter provided the occasional adrenaline rush he still craved, it wasn’t the same as football. After two years away from the sport, Semke was ripe for recruitment when he noticed a University Daily Kansan advertisement announcing open tryouts for football walk-ons.
He tried out during the spring of his sophomore year, made the team, and entered his junior year with sophomore standing in football. A natural fullback in a pro-style offense with little need for fullbacks, Semke fashioned himself a high-energy playmaker on special teams; during practice, though, he moved to the scout team’s defensive line.
Putting in the work
“I was a little bit undersized for that,” he says, “but I was just out there every day, working hard, making plays, and I kind of got noticed. So they thought, why don’t we give this a shot? That whole next spring, my redshirt junior year, they put in a lot of time with me, getting me ready to play, and I ended up starting the first six games of my junior year on the defensive line.”
After being featured in Sports Illustrated thanks to his bounty-hunter background, Semke played defensive end as a senior, along with fullback when necessary—like Turner Gill before him, coach Charlie Weis rarely featured fullbacks—and when his KU playing days were done Semke began focusing on the NFL. He performed well at his Pro Day workouts, earning a workout with the Kansas City Chiefs and a minicamp invitation from the New Orleans Saints.
Leaving football behind
Realistic about his chances, Semke left football behind for good when he was invited to join more than 100 other candidates for pit-crew tryouts at Hendrick headquarters.
Hendrick, it turns out, sends a pit-crew coach out on the road with its race teams, and he spends race weeks visiting collegiate football program near every track, searching for potential recruits. At Kansas Speedway, KU coaches put in a good word for Semke, touting his speed, strength, attitude and energy.
Semke lived up the billing he received from his former football coaches, and in spring 2016 he was introduced as one of five new pit crew recruits at Hendrick’s second Signing Day event.
He spent his first full season learning the jackman’s job on a variety of teams and racing series, and this year was named a full-time member on Elliott’s No. 9 Camaro.
Steep learning curve
“TJ is a pretty special guy,” says veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson. “He’s physically gifted, to say the least, to be that big and that fast and strong. He’s a really competitive guy and a fun guy to have on our team. We’ve been really impressed with him and his ability with relatively no experience pitting the car. His learning curve has been amazing. We expect really big things from him in the future.”
Semke’s learning curve got steeper this season when NASCAR announced new pit-lane regulations that allowed for only five crew members over the wall during races, rather than the previous limit of six. That meant double-duty for someone on each crew, and Hendrick’s solution was to make the jackman also responsible for putting on tires, all within the 13-second timeframe of a high-pressure pit stop.
“You have double the work and you’re still trying to be fast,” Semke says. “It presented a lot of challenges, but that’s kind of what’s fun about it. We have a bunch of athletic guys who know how to adapt and change, so it worked out in our favor.”
Brains and brawn
As expected, Semke relishes the vigorous physical environment at Hendrick, where pit crews lift weights under the supervision of a team of trainers, go through full-speed pit training and even spend Mondays doing yoga to improve flexibility.
Perhaps not as expected, though, is the intelligence Semke brings to the team, which pays off in the team’s constant film study. He was named Academic All-Big 12 and graduated with at 3.1 GPA.
“A lot of people might look at me—the tattoos, and I’m a big, strong guy—and they might think, ‘Oh, this guy’s just a meathead, a cave-man type of guy, eats a bunch of meat.’ At a glance you might just think that’s what I am.
“But anything I do I want to be really good at it. I can hit the books and I can hit the weights, both. It definitely feels good to have a degree from the University of Kansas, that’s for sure.”
TJ Semke, No. 9 team jackman, gives fans a closer look inside the Hendrick Motorsports heat training program.
The inaugural KU Kickoff event in downtown Topeka took place Aug. 9 outside the Celtic Fox at 8th Street and Kansas Avenue. The celebration featured food, music, promotional items and the opportunity to win tickets and more.
Brian Hanni, the Voice of the Jayhawks, hosted the event. Featured speakers included Chancellor Doug Girod, football head coach David Beaty and women’s soccer head coach Mark Francis.
Check out some of the event’s highlights below in our compilation of social media posts! Future events will be held in Wichita, Prairie Village and Lawrence.
As the Kansas football team works through fall camp, Kansas Athletics and the KU Alumni Association have announced four dates providing fans opportunities to meet and greet the Jayhawks before the season begins.
With outings scheduled for Topeka, Wichita, Kansas City and Lawrence, the celebrations will feature food, music, promotional items and the opportunity to win tickets and more. The KU band and spirit squads will be in attendance at the various locations.
KU Kickoff at Topeka
Scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m., outside the Celtic Fox at 8th Street and Kansas Avenue, the KU Kickoff at Topeka will be hosted by the Voice of the Jayhawks, Brian Hanni. Featured speakers will be Chancellor Doug Girod, football head coach David Beaty and women’s soccer head coach Mark Francis. Facebook event
KU Kickoff at Wichita
Slated for Wednesday, Aug. 15 at 6 p.m., at Beech Lake off of 13th Street and Webb, the KU Kickoff at Wichita will again be hosted by Hanni and will feature Girod, Beaty and Director of Athletics Jeff Long. Facebook event
KU Kickoff at Corinth Square (Kansas City)
The 13th annual KU Kickoff at Corinth Square will be held on Friday, Aug. 17 and will get started at 6 p.m., at the parking lot at the Corinth Square Shopping Centre in Prairie Village. Jayhawk radio network football color analyst David Lawrence will host the KU Kickoff at Corinth Square with Girod, Beaty and Long scheduled to attend, along with KU Alumni Association’s Heath Peterson. Facebook event
KU Kickoff at Lawrence
The quartet of celebrations will conclude at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium as the KU Kickoff at Lawrence will take place on Saturday, Aug. 25 from 2-4 p.m. The Fun Zone will be set up right on Kivisto Field and gates will open at 2 p.m. Food trucks will be set up around the stadium and the Jayhawk players will sign autographs starting at 3 p.m. Parking for the KU Kickoff at Lawrence and is free and open. Fans attending the event are encouraged to park on the east side of DBK Memorial Stadium in Lots 91 and 94.
When the Charlotte Hornets announced a meet-and-greet for their newly drafted player Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Jayhawks were there to welcome him to their city.
“I’m a native Charlottean and was six when the Hornets started. I’ve been waiting a long time for my hometown team to pick one of our guys,” said Rebecca Ferry, d’05. Ferry leads the local alumni network.
The meet-and-greet was extra special for Kelly Hunter and her son Luke. When the Hornets heard Luke was celebrating his 11th birthday, they pulled a few strings and sold him the store’s first Devonte’ Graham jersey.
The story gets even better: This wasn’t the first time Luke had met Devonte’. Luke and his mother ran into Graham two years ago while they were on campus.
On Luke’s 9th birthday.
“Devonte’ said he remembered meeting him,” said Kelly. “Luke thinks the Hornets drafting Devonte’ is the best birthday present ever.”
Read more about the 2018 NBA Draft, which saw former KU basketball players Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk drafted in the second round.
After a season filled with ups and downs, a 14th straight conference championship and a trip to the Final Four, the Jayhawks fell to the Villanova Wildcats Saturday night in the national semifinal.
KU fans gathered in San Antonio, Allen Fieldhouse, and at watch parties from coast to coast to watch the Jayhawks in the Final Four.
At the Final Four
More than 5,000 Jayhawks started their game day right outside the Alamodome for the pregame party hosted by the KU Alumni Association and Kansas Athletics. The KU band, Spirit Squad and mascots held a pep rally, with food trucks and cash bars nearby.
Back home in Lawrence
Dozens of Lawrence-area bars and restaurants hosted watch parties, but the most popular site for a big KU game remained the same. Thousands of fans flocked to Allen Fieldhouse to watch the game on the video board. Students filled the student section, and threw shredded Kansans into the air for pregame introductions.
Wherever Jayhawks may be
Alumni networks hosted more than 75 watch parties around the country. Many network leaders claimed it was their biggest turnout in years. The Denver Network alone hosted 1,000 Jayhawks at Stoney’s Bar and Grill.
Although we hate to see the season end, the Alumni Association is proud of this team, and we are always proud to be a Jayhawk.