As soon as Houston Dash defender Julia Ashley arrived in the city, she jumped at the opportunity to give back and learn about her new community.
The 25-year-old from New Jersey joined the Dash during the offseason from Racing Louisville FC. The morning after she arrived in Houston, Ashley became a volunteer coach for Girls Introduction to Soccer program hosted by the Houston Dash and Houston’s World Cup Bid Committee. Ashley, along with several of her Dash teammates, spend their afternoons coaching soccer at local schools and Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the city.
"I love giving back to younger kids and people who are able to look up us as professionals,” Ashely said. “I think that I have had a lot of experience on and off the field, in terms of taking care of younger kids and maybe they're able to learn from the experiences that I had when I am able to be with them. I just honestly really enjoy it.”
Ashely coaches a group of girls from a Houston Independent School District school twice a week after she is done with her preseason training with the Dash at Houston Sports Park. Since beginning almost three weeks ago, Ashley said she has seen the girls she is coaching gain confidence, which according to Ashley has been the most rewarding part.
“It’s a really tight knit group,” Ashley said. “So, I’m getting to know the kids on a really personal level. Seeing the growth in them each day, not just as soccer players but as people has been tremendous and awesome. They are having a great time.”
Through coaching, Ashley has been able to learn more about a city she has only seen as a a visitor. Now, almost a month into living in Houston, Ashley is not only finding her way around the city but also her new team.
“I’ve absolutely loved it, since the first second I got here,” Ashley said. “I feel so supported by the staff and my teammates.”
Ashley said she is all in on trying to help the Dash make its first ever playoff appearance after Houston fell a point shy of qualifying following a loss at the end of the season to the eventual NWSL Champion Washington Spirit. Despite coming into an organization that has unfinished business, Ashley says the coaching staff have done a great job of helping the new players on the team understand where they team was at the end of last season and how they want to build heading into the 2022 NWSL competition calendar with the NWSL Challenge Cup and regular season on the horizon.
“They have high expectations,” Ashley said. “Everyone is awesome and super welcoming. I think we have a really competitive environment, which is great. I love my teammates.”
When not coaching or training, Ashley spends her time with her three-month-old Great Dane puppy, Gunner. With several players on the team who own dogs Ashley feels having their dogs play has allowed her to get to know her teammates a lot better off the field.
Ashley, who was drafted No. 6 overall in the 2019 NWSL Draft by Sky Blue FC (now NJ/NY Gotham FC) , has played for OL Reign and overseas in Sweden. She was later selected by Racing Louisville FC in the 2020 NWSL Expansion Draft and appeared in 15 matches during the 2021 season. Entering her third year, Ashley is hoping to make a meaningful impact on Houston’s backline in her first season with the Dash."I want grow as player this year and hopefully be a mainstay within the team and win a starting spot,” Ashley said. “This group, I can tell, is very special. There are a lot of new girls, chemistry obviously takes time, it’s not something where we can just have a meeting over team chemistry so it’s going to take a bit. But I have already noticed from our leadership with Rachel (Daly) and Jane (Campbell) and other girls who step up and speak, they really care. I can really see that we are building something special here and just want to be a part of that and help us grow.”