Lucas Monserrat '17, Obi Nnaeto '18, and Shea Smith '18 are just three of more than two dozen college athletes using the Greig Center over their winter break to stay in shape.
Julia Braun—who recently joined Pingry as a Physical Education teacher, coach, and staff member of the Greig Family Strength and Conditioning Center—has in-the-trenches tips to share with her Pingry students. Not only is she a former Division I lacrosse player who, most recently, served as Director of Player Development and Coaching for T3 Lacrosse in Morristown, she also happens to play professionally for the Baltimore Ride, a team in the United Women's Lacrosse League (UWLX). Pingry student athletes, listen up!
The most obvious question first: How will you juggle the demands of your various Pingry roles with your life as a professional athlete?
From September through June, I'll be helping to coach the Girls' JV and Varsity Soccer, Basketball, and Lacrosse Teams. I'm also team-teaching Intro to Physical Fitness with [Director of Strength and Conditioning] Doug Scott, and co-teaching Fitness Education. Because the goal of the UWLX is really to grow the game, the professional season is summertime. Most players are coaches or have other jobs in the off-season.
What led you to join this nascent professional league, the UWLX?
I've been training on and off since graduating from Bucknell [in 2011], just in case. . . playing professionally has been one of those reach goals for me. If it happened, I wanted to be ready. The first four years after I graduated I tried out for the U.S. Women's Lacrosse Team. I made training camp once, but got cut. Three years ago, the UWLX and WPLL [Women's Professional Lacrosse League] launched, and I've been to every one of their April draft camps since. While I didn't get drafted from their camp this past year, a woman on the Baltimore Ride dropped out a day before their first game. The coach called me, asked me if I wanted to play, and I said, "I'm ready!" I was at Mountain Park [down the street from Pingry, coincidentally] the next day. I did well enough in that first game in June to earn a spot on their roster. At 29, I'm the oldest person on the team, and maybe even the League. I'm hoping if I train hard and do well at the draft camp next April, I'll get asked back next summer.
So, you've probably been playing lacrosse from about the time you could walk, right?
No! I was not allowed to play sports up until I reached Middle School. My mom was born and raised in Germany, and both my parents wanted to make sure I could handle family and academic responsibilities first. I danced and was very involved in music—I played piano from age 5, as well as the clarinet, French horn, and guitar. In Grade 8, I started playing soccer at my school [North Rockland High School, in Thiells, New York], which I really enjoyed. I was going to run track—my dad was a pole vaulter—but the P.E. teacher recruited me for lacrosse. I still remember the first day of practice. I fell in love with it immediately. I was a two-time captain at Bucknell [as a junior midfielder, she led the team in every statistical category, one of only two women in the country to do so that year], but not at any point during my high school career did I think I wanted to play in college. It just evolved that way.
Why Pingry? What attracted you to our community?
I've been training the Girls' Varsity Lacrosse Team the last three winters during their Sunday clinics, so I already had a connection to Pingry. I have a master's degree in Exercise Physiology and a true passion for exercise and coaching others to be their best selves. I wasn't able to do that in the job that I had, so I decided to reach out to several area schools, including Pingry, to volunteer. Doug responded to me immediately. Last fall, I began volunteering in the Greig Center with Doug and Mike [Saraceno, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach], helping with team lifts and being a female presence in the weight room, in addition to Mary [Drabich, Morning Wellness Coordinator]. What I like most about Pingry are the students. I've always heard such good things about every aspect of the school, but for me, I've never had a poor interaction with a student. They are kind, thoughtful, and work hard. That's really fun to be around.
Given all your experiences in the sport of lacrosse, as both coach and player, not to mention your knowledge of trends in strength and conditioning, what are you most excited to bring with you to Pingry?
I have a ton of ideas, but have to write them all down! I'm really excited about the experiential learning aspect of Pingry, and working with other disciplines. Athletics is already experiential, but you throw a hike into it and it suddenly becomes a biology or physics trip. I'm also excited to have the opportunity to teach Intro to Physical Fitness with Doug, and share with students some of the basic ways to incorporate fitness and wellness into their lives. I firmly believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Hopefully the 10 students I impact will tell 10 others. And in terms of coaching, I'd love to eventually run a Middle School lacrosse clinic that meets right after the JV and varsity girls winter training sessions. It's a great way to get younger girls familiar with the sport. I did this at my high school—once you made varsity you had to stay after practice and help with the youth programs. It's much more fun to learn from the 16-year-old girl you just watched score five goals than from a coach!
Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer, email@example.com