Katie Naughton has quickly become an integral member of the Houston Dash – both on and off the field.
The 27-year-old center back arrived in Houston in February 2020 after being traded from the Chicago Red Stars. Katie Naughton was a constant presence on the Red Stars backline and came to Houston with 83 appearances in the NWSL. The defender made her Dash debut during the 2020 Challenge Cup and helped Houston earn its first championship in club history. In the seasons since, Naughton has solidified herself as the anchor of the Houston backline – playing every minute of every game across all competitions for the Dash in 2021.
The Naperville, Ill. Native says there is no big secret to how she’s been able to maintain such a consistent level of fitness and play. From sleeping, doing yoga and training, Naughton says the best thing she can do for her body is stay active and with a few years of NWSL experience under her belt she has found what works the best to keep her fit.
“I try to do everything I can on and off the field to make sure that my body stays healthy,” Naughton said. “I try to keep by body moving. I go on walks a lot with my dog Corby, so doing that with her just keeps everything lose, moving and ready to go. I can definitely tell the difference when I am not doing that as frequently.”
Naughton is not only a fan favorite but also a favorite among her teammates, she was voted the 2021 Players Player of the Year, which is an award voted on exclusively by players. However, according to Naughton, her first impression with the team was a little less than stellar.
Two days after arriving and training with the team, she said she received a call from the Illinois Health Department asking her about her flight to Houston, when Naughton confirmed her flight information with the health department employee, she was told she needed to quarantine after someone on her flight had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I was brand new; I didn’t know anyone, and I was like ‘Hey guys! Bye guys!’ it was so weird,” Naughton said. “No one knew why I wasn’t there because I don’t think they released it because they didn’t want to freak anyone out even though I didn’t have COVID.
“So, I was stuck in my brand-new apartment, alone for four days, right when I got to the Dash. The day I was supposed to come back everything shut down, so we were all on the same boat.”
Naughton said the challenge then was being able to form relationships with a few players at a time because that was the only way they were able to interact with one another while the NWSL geared up for the 2020 Challenge Cup in Utah. However, once they were all able to come together and train as a full group, Naughton said it was a seamless transition and said veteran Dash players made a lot of new faces on the club feel welcomed.
Haley Hanson, who plays alongside Naughton on the backline says that she would describe her teammate as a calming presence with a hint of controlled intensity. Hanson says Naughton is the perfect kind of player to play next to for her.
“Katie is a calming presence on the field, like a controlled intensity,” Hanson said. “I’m pretty urgent, a little bit high stress at times when I’m out there but she’s that calming presence for us. She’s just so level head-head all the time.”
Hanson says that aside from the physical requirements of being a defender, a large part of playing the position is the mental aspect of it all, which she believes Naughton does an excellent job at managing both on and off the field.
“She’s a lot like Tom Brady, in the sense that she is very consistent,” Hanson said. “Mentally, I think that is why I think she is very special in terms of her level-headedness and her ability to stay even keeled on the field off the field, like always. I’m not really sure how she does it.”
Naughton said that the 2021 season was mentally taxing in various ways and at times it got overwhelming but was grateful to have a support system with her family and her fiancé, as well as several of her Dash teammates so that she could lean on when she felt unbalanced.
Dash head coach James Clarkson said Naughton has not only met the expectations they had of her coming in, but she has exceeded them.
“Having a player of Katie Naughton’s quality on and off the field is so valuable to the success of the team,” Clarkson said. “She brings great experience to the team; she shows great leadership qualities again on an off the field and really leads by example and sets a really high standard.”
Entering year three with the Dash and year seven in the NWSL, Naughton is ready to take it to the next level. Her ambitions for herself are high and even higher for the Dash. One thing is for certain, Naughton is ready to help Houston make history but clinching the club’s first every playoff “and then winning the whole damn thing.”