Julia Hernan’s goalkeeping brilliance was on full display during the second half of the 2012 Pennsylvania Independent School Athletic Association (PAISAA) Championship match.
The Hill School trailed William Penn Charter 2-1 at halftime, and the team’s push for a second half equalizer opened up holes in the defense that Penn Charter’s forwards exploited. Penn Charter had a handful of golden scoring opportunities to put the match away, including two breakaways, but Hernan answered each challenge by making what subsequently turned into her most important save of that season.
Sparked by Hernan’s performance, Hill came from behind to win, 3-2. Yet the PAISAA championship was just one of several outstanding performances from Hernan during her four-year career as the Blues’ starting goalkeeper.
Her goalkeeping acumen attracted the eye of many college coaches, and Hernan recently was rewarded for her hard work on and off the soccer field when she signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Division I Saint Francis University.
“Signing a NLI is something I’ve always dreamed of, and it was a surreal moment to finally achieve my childhood goal,’ Hernan said. “When I was younger, people told me playing Division I soccer would not happen and I was determined to prove them wrong. I couldn’t be happier that all of my hard work and time spent training is finally paying off, and that I get four more years to play the game I love.’
The Royersford native began playing soccer at age 6, but did not begin her career as a goalkeeper. When she was 9, Hernan joined the Vincent United Pride club team. The team had no goalkeeper, so Hernan volunteered to try the position. It did not take her long to fall in love with goalkeeping, and she worked to improve all aspects of her game.
Hernan knew she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her older sister Samantha (Class of 2011) and arrived at The Hill as a freshman in the fall of 2011. She immediately became The Hill’s starting varsity goalkeeper and experienced lots of success early in her career. The Hill girls’ won both the Mid-Atlantic Prep League and PAISAA Championships in 2011, and claimed the PAISAA championship in 2012. Hernan considers the 2012 PAISAA championship game one of her favorites in a Hill uniform.
With the team down a goal at halftime, Hernan used her hatred of losing to her advantage. Following a conversation with Hill head coach Shannon Summers, then the team’s assistant coach, Hernan focused on doing her part to keep the team in the game.
“I’m an incredibly competitive person, and was ticked off that we were losing,’ Hernan recalls. “Ms. Summers mentally pulled me in, telling me to do my part and trust the team. I knew that all I needed to do was keep the ball out of the net, and the team would do the rest.’
The majority of the team’s impact players from The Hill’s championship seasons had graduated by the 2013 season, leaving The Hill in a rebuilding period. Hernan suddenly found herself in a leadership role as one of the older players on the team, and she served as a co-captain in 2014. She initially struggled to adjust to playing on a younger, inexperienced team that suffered many frustrating results. Being a team captain caused Hernan to reconsider how she approaches the game, something she feels has made her a better teammate and a better player.
“Not being as successful was a hard transition for me,’ Hernan said. “Anyone who has seen me play knows that I can be a little bit of a hot head sometimes. I realized that wouldn’t work on a younger team and that I needed to be a leader and show the younger players the ropes. I tried to lead not only vocally, but also by example by working as hard as I could.’
Many Division III colleges recruited Hernan, and she gave serious consideration to both New York University and Johns Hopkins University while maintaining hope that a Division I coach would recruit her. The Saint Francis University coach attended one of Hernan’s club games to scout the opposing team’s goalkeeper, but was so impressed by Hernan’s play that he recruited her instead. Hernan fell in love with Saint Francis, located in western Pennsylvania, during her visit and verbally committed five days later.
“Saint Francis is a small school with a beautiful campus, a warm and talented coaching staff, and a successful team,’ Hernan said. “The school also is known for its health sciences program. My mom always told me when I stressed about college soccer that I would end up where I belong, and I believe that I really did end up where I belong and where I will be happy.’
Before embarking on the next step in her life, Hernan will savor her final months at The Hill. Hernan additionally is a four-year member of the varsity girls’ basketball team and the Hill Trebles, the school’s female vocal group. Though she knows balancing sports and academics will be challenging, Hernan is confident that her time at The Hill has her well prepared.
“The Hill has shaped who I will be heading to college,’ Hernan said. “I’ve become more confident in aspects of my life and I’m more comfortable reaching goals and taking on challenges. There is no doubt in my mind that balancing a hard major with Division I athletics will be different, but I’m confident that Hill has given me the skills to push through.’