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Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

By Monique Beeler

Photography courtesy Getty Images
A season of celebration for Julie Johnston Ertz ’14 on and off the field.

Her star is ever rising.

In women’s soccer Tournament of Nations, Julie Johnston Ertz ’14 scored the game-winning goal over Brazil in the 89th minute. Take a look—we’ll wait—at her trademark run-in and pitch-perfect finish in the July 30 match

It was among the latest glittering successes for Johnston Ertz, who first sprung to public prominence as a dynamic defender for the U.S. Women’s national team in its 2015 World Cup victory in Vancouver, Canada. Fans nationwide also cheered her on during the 2016 Summer Olympics and in recent matches played for the USWNT and the Chicago Red Stars, a top competitor in the National Women’s Soccer League. 

On the personal front, there’s more good news to applaud. On March 26, 2017, she hitched her star to longtime sweetheart Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles in a Santa Barbara beachside wedding. The rites followed on a romantic bent-knee proposal by Ertz the previous spring at the same Stanford baseball stadium where the couple met during Johnston Ertz’s sophomore year. The nuptials also came after an unorthodox photo shoot for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue. But first: the wedding details.

Zach and Julie Ertz perform rope training exercise
A scene captured during the ESPN The Magazine Body Issue photo shoot of Zach and Julie Ertz. Photography by Eric Lutzens/ESPN

As a bride, Johnston Ertz opted for multiple traditional touches: plentiful lace, armfuls of white roses, and a chapel-length veil hand-stitched by Zach’s godmother. But she also wanted to give the event an unforgettable stamp for her groom and their 200 guests. 

“I’m huge into details to make it your own,” she says by phone between training sessions with the Chicago Red Stars. “I wanted there to be a lot of surprises for him. I wanted people to leave and say, ‘That was totally an Ertz wedding.’”

Guests’ senses—sight, taste, sound, action—got the full Ertz treatment.

During the ceremony, the ring bearer wore a mini Philadelphia Eagles jersey. The flower girl wore a petite version of the white No. 8 jersey the bride dons for the U.S. national team. “It was super cute—she had a tutu on,” Ertz gushes. “One of my friends bedazzled the 8 for it.”

When it came time to nosh and sip, treats for guests included customized cappuccinos topped with steamed milk swirled in the shapes of footballs and soccer balls.

Backed by an up-tempo live band, wedding guests, including a handful of Santa Clara pals, at Santa Barbara’s Bacara Resort and Spa overlooking the Pacific, danced under a celestial canopy to the bride’s hand-picked roster of songs, from Bruno Mars hits to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” She also made sure a favorite Isley Brothers’ classic—also a fave among Broncos—made the play list. 

“We wanted to do ‘Shout,’ which was another personal thing,” she says. “At Santa Clara, it’s the last song they do when you graduate. We had a bunch of Santa Clara girls there.” 

Among Johnston Ertz’s college friends on hand was Broncos, and now Red Stars, teammate and recent USWNT training partner, Sofia Huerta ’15. The dance after-party went till 2 a.m., but Johnston Ertz says she packed it in at 1 a.m.

“His and my friends, we love to have a good time,” she says.

Philly and the Windy City

The unforgettable day may be behind them, but their fast-paced, long-distance lifestyle remains in full swing. Home base is Philadelphia—where they recently purchased their first home together—and schedules keep them apart more days on the calendar than not. During the NWSL season, Ertz is based in Chicago, and national team training and matches take her across the country and the globe.

“If I did the math, we’re probably together four months—120 days. I count; I count all the time,” she says.

But this Bronco newlywed keeps multiple reminders of their partnership in sight, not the least of which is her wedding ring, fashioned by a jeweler who is a family friend. “Every time I look at that ring, it makes it special, because he picked it out and because I’ll wear it forever.” 

Reminders of their shared Christian faith also bind them when they’re apart. Behind her left ear: a tattoo of a cross. On her husband’s finger, its match in ink.

On the soccer field, it’s hard to miss Julie Johnston Ertz’s bobbing ponytail, bright blue headband and beaming smile. Look closer, and you may also glimpse a small, ever-present silver cross bouncing on a chain at her neck. A Tiffany’s creation formed from multiple miniature hearts, it was an early Valentine’s Day gift from Zach Ertz during their courtship. For her, it represented an early signal of how special she was to him.

“I grew up in a Christian family, but never felt like I knew what a relationship with Christ was till I got to college,” she says. It’s a relationship she continues nurturing, supported by her husband.

“Zach actually got baptized the day before our wedding. Our relationship has grown together. Being an athlete is a different life. Together, we’ve grown in our faith, too.”

The Body Issue

While a reverence for tradition guided many wedding day decisions for the young couple, the lead-up to the nuptial rites involved a decidedly unconventional detour. The pair participated in an ESPN The Magazine photo shoot first, becoming the only couple photographed together for the annual ESPN Body Issue, a clothes-free affair.

Six of Johnston Ertz’s national squad teammates have previously posed for the special edition that was launched in 2009 as something of a rebuttal to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Conversations Johnston Ertz had with colleagues opened the door for her to consider following in their bare footsteps with her game husband at her side.

Where the SI publication focuses on fashion models, ESPN’s magazine puts action shots of muscular athletes front and center. Hockey players, tennis stars, swimmers, and others on the move have been captured in the buff. Genitals and other sensitive zones are always obscured by a discretely placed hand or strategic camera angles.

“It’s very out of my realm,” says Johnston Ertz, known to fans for her athleticism, often virtually flying into the goal box at a sprint to bury a power shot into the net. “But when we’re at camp and talking to each other about what they liked about (the photo shoots), it sounded like such a neat experience.”

She’s a literal shooting star whose credentials include: West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year, three first-team All-American honors, captaining the U.S. Under-20 national team to World Cup victory, and Rookie of the Year honors in her first year with the Red Stars. 

Johnston Ertz called it a confidence-building experience. This from a goal-scoring professional soccer player, a literal shooting star, whose credentials include: West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year, three first-team All-American honors, captaining the U.S. Under-20 national team to World Cup victory, and Rookie of the Year honors in her first year with the Red Stars. 

Images captured within the magazine’s print pages—and distributed online—show a power couple, as individuals and in tandem. In one frame, Johnston Ertz is suspended in air, mid-stride, outstretched foot about to connect with a soccer ball. In another, her mate assumes a pose resembling a sprinter at the starting block, while Johnston-Ertz balances along his back, their shoulders touching and her leg extended skyward, muscles taut.

“The whole experience was amazing,” Johnston Ertz says. “I’d recommend it to anyone.”

“This body allows me to do what I’ve done,” she reflects. “Growing up female, society says what you’re supposed to look like and do. Now I know what I need to do to make my body work its best. And to do that with Zach, who is the No. 1 supporter of me, made it all the more special.”

READ MORE: Ann Killion’s recap of the 2015 World Cup victory, “Call Her a World Champion.”

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