Making Steady Progress for Temple Women’s Lax, PHS Alumna Ryan Enjoyed Solid Career for Owls
STICKING WITH IT: Julia Ryan heads to goal during her career for the Temple University women’s lacrosse team. While Princeton High alumna Ryan’s senior season with the Owls was cut short this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she enjoyed a productive career, tallying 16 goals and 14 assists over her four years. (Photo by Zamani Feelings, provided courtesy Temple Athletics Strategic Communications)
By Bill Alden
Having displayed steady progress during her first three seasons for the Temple University women’s lacrosse team, Julia Ryan was primed for a big finale to her college career this spring.
“I was part of a class of 10 at Temple, so we had been waiting for our senior season since we walked in the door as freshmen,” said Ryan, a former Princeton High standout.
“We were such a tight unit and of the starting lineup, I think we had nine seniors and two juniors on the field. So it was a veteran squad and we were really looking to build.”
Ryan and the Owls showed their prowess in a tight 16-14 loss to then-No. 6 Princeton on February 15.
“The Princeton game was this huge moment for us because we really pushed them,” recalled Ryan, a 5’10 attacker who had an assist in the setback.
“At halftime, we were ahead 8-6 and we were all sitting in the locker room, saying guys we can do this. We have never had this feeling before. Even though we ended up losing, it was such a good, well-fought game. We were all so proud of ourselves, that was really an exciting game for us.”
But after getting off to a promising 5-4 start, the excitement ended for Temple as the season was canceled in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I will never forget that meeting because the coaches were in there, they told us and then they left us alone and let us sit in a circle and talk,” said Ryan, recalling when she and her teammates learned that their season was over.
“Lacrosse is a great character building experience; it is also grueling for four years. I remember sitting there and I was very upset. I said to the group that I didn’t think I was going to be upset but I really am.”
Things were grueling for Ryan starting with the fall of her freshman year.
“For me personally, the physical adjustment was the hardest in terms of my strength and speed,” said Ryan.
“I always had a decent amount of speed in high school so that did carry over. In the weight room and on the field, I just didn’t have that strength, weight and muscle. It was a big difference. That was definitely one of the hardest parts of freshman year, just making sure that I put in all of the extra work in the weight room to catch up there.”
In addition to building her strength, Ryan had to get up to speed with the style of play at the college level.
“The lacrosse is very different, it is much faster, it is much more aggressive,” added Ryan.
“It is a very different style of play than high school and then you are going from being a big fish at Princeton where I was averaging six to seven points a game to riding the bench and doing my time as a freshman. It was definitely a hard mental adjustment.”
Even though Ryan only made five appearances as a freshman and went scoreless, she was still raising her game.
“You get less playing time during the games but in practices you are playing against veteran seniors and they want to push you and make you better,” said Ryan.
“Not playing in games as a freshman didn’t hinder my growth as a player.”
Showing her growth as a sophomore, Ryan notched her first career goal against Monmouth in an early season contest and went on to tally three goals and three assists on 14 games.
“It definitely was a confidence builder,” said Ryan, reflecting on getting her first goal.
“Some of my teammates got their first goal freshman year and it was one of the earlier games. We had just come out strong out of the gate and it was an awesome opportunity for some sophomores to get in there. I scored off an 8-meter, it was not like the most riveting goal but it set the ball rolling. I started to have a good sophomore year in terms of getting more playing time and confidence.”
Building on that progress, Ryan produced a big junior campaign, scoring 16 points on 12 goals and four assists.
“That was probably my best year on the field in terms of confidence,” asserted Ryan.
“When you are a junior, you can really step into more of a leadership role. You are not calling all of the shots but you are making more of the decisions. I have always felt that was one of my strengths as a player, being able to direct, lead and control tempo. That was a really great year for me.”
A great moment for Ryan that spring came when she had her first career hat trick in a 16-7 loss at Princeton.
“We play them every year and it is great competition,” said Ryan. “It is always Princeton’s first game and it is maybe our second and third. They did come out of the gate pretty hot. We were slowly able to chip away and decrease their lead by a little. It was really exciting, we had a bunch of people get in there and score some goals for the first time that season. Obviously for me to be back in Princeton, I had support in the stands. I definitely have spent time in ’52 Stadium.”
This spring, Ryan got to play a supportive role as her younger sister, former PHS standout Abaigael, joined the Owls squad as a freshman attacker.
“I loved it, just to be able to help her through the transitioning process for freshman year,” said Ryan.
“She had her own
challenges similar to mine so it was great to be there for her and watch her grow as a player. She had a really big transition, she was playing defense when I played with her in high school and then she was an attacker. Then she comes to school at Temple and she is an attacker again. She had a lot of playing transitions. To be able to spend all of that extra time with her, even when we are not in the field, just going to grab dinner and things like that, it is really special.”
With the Owls winning four of their last five games before the cancellation, it appeared that they were on their way to a special season.
“We had a bit of a slow start and then we were really starting to get into a groove which was really exciting,” said Ryan, who tallied one goal and seven assists this season and ended up with 16 goals and 14 assists in her career.
“Things were building but then it ended on a bittersweet note with that Villanova game. We started off really slow and we fell into a nine-goal deficit (12-3) at halftime. In the second half we were able to crawl back and only lose by two (13-11). I think that just really showed how much we wanted it and how much we were fighting.”
The squad showed its togetherness as the players kept in constant contact after being sent home for virtual learning.
“For the first month, we were doing team meetings on Zoom with the coaches and some without the coaches as well just to catch up,” said Ryan.
“Then the seniors were essentially dismissed. We didn’t need to keep going to team meetings any more but we definitely still keep in touch all the time, texting and just trying to do whatever we can.”
As she finished up her senior year at home, Ryan adjusted to Zoom learning.
“It was definitely tough; I give a ton of credit to all of the teachers and faculty, it was a really smooth transition,” said Ryan, who was a President’s Honor Roll recipient (for having a GPA of 3.5 or above) her last three years of college.
“I think everyone did the best job that they could. It was weird. In a normal circumstance during finals week, I would be super stressed, running around and trying to play lacrosse and do this or that. This spring, I would study for a little and I can be done today. I didn’t need to get up at the crack of dawn. There were no all-nighters in online school.”
While Ryan didn’t get to be at school for commencement festivities, she was busy with a number of online ceremonies.
“This is another thing I compliment Temple on, usually there would just be this big university-wide ceremony and then a ceremony for the business school,” said Ryan.
“What was nice was that almost every group that I was a part of held their own commencement ceremony on Zoom. So there was one for my major, one for the business school, one for the university as a whole, and one for the student athletes. We also did a team Senior Day on Zoom and they did a great job; that was really special. I attended more ceremonies than I would have if I had been there.”
Weeks after graduation, Ryan was primed to join a new group.
“I will be working for TD Bank in Cherry Hill in a finance capacity for them,” said Ryan, an international business major.
“I interned for them last summer and they offered me a job in September so I have been pretty solid with that plan for a long time which I am grateful for, especially now that all of this happened.”
Looking back on her Temple experience, Ryan is grateful for the self-knowledge she has gained over the last four years.
“There was so much growth, just in the ability to understand what I am capable of and knowing how to push yourself and knowing your limits,” said Ryan.
“You just learn so much in the four years about hard work and these qualities that you need to have to be an adult. I think that is really unique to athletics in college.”