At least, that’s what UNC senior Julia Young’s father, Ted, thinks.
“Whenever (the other team) gets close, I’m nervous,” Ted said. “I’m always on edge.”
But Julia never is. As the anchor of the Tar Heel back line, she calmly receives passes, distributes the ball to her teammates and, when the need arises, gets the ball the heck out of the circle.
That calm, stoic presence out of the back is why her teammates trust her. It’s why she’s their captain, always keeping a cool head and composed face for the team.
Maintaining that presence wasn’t always easy for Julia. Neither was being thrust into the spotlight for her accolades. But now, she’s mastered how to stay calm under pressure.
“I think a lot of times when you see people get flustered, they’re thinking too much,” she said.
“So I just try not to think.”
When she was younger, Julia wanted to do everything her older sister Kaytlin did. She danced. Then she did gymnastics. Then soccer. So when Kaytlin picked up field hockey in the eighth grade, fourth grader Julia wanted to play, too.
When it came time for high school field hockey, Julia’s coach told her she wouldn’t make varsity if she didn’t join a club team. So 13-year-old Julia tried out for a brand new club, Focus Field Hockey — coached by UNC alum Kristen McCann — on a cold, rainy, miserable day. She was guessing she’d make the U14 team, maybe the U16 team if she had a good tryout.
Her father got a call from McCann later that night.
“She called and said, ‘We want Julia to play with the U19s,’” Ted recalled. “I said, ‘Kristen, you know she’s 13 years old?’”
Ted heard McCann flip through papers over the phone. She didn’t know Julia was 13, but she didn’t care. She wanted her to play on the U19s anyway. Julia was that good.
It was the first time Julia stood out from the rest of the crowd on a field hockey field.
But it wouldn’t be the last.
For Coach Karen Shelton, Julia was an unusual recruit.
Normally, Shelton has her eye on players starting around their sophomore year of high school and plans out who she wants to recruit by their junior year.
But Shelton had no idea who Julia was until she was a junior.
One of her assistant coaches told her to go watch Julia play a game at the National Field Hockey Festival in Arizona. Shelton walked over and knew immediately whom her assistant was talking about.
“It took me one time on grass to see that she had amazing potential,” Shelton said. “I gotta have this kid.”
At that point, it was a matter of closing the deal. Shelton had the Youngs down for an official visit shortly after the festival, culminating in what Shelton believes is the best offer in collegiate field hockey: to play for North Carolina.
Driving back home to Yorktown, Virginia, Julia didn’t take long to make her choice.
Ted tried to reason with her, suggesting she spend some time thinking her options over. Julia didn’t need to.
“She said, ‘That’s where I want to make my mark,’” Ted said. “There was no decision-making. It was decided ten minutes up the road.”
After arriving in Chapel Hill, it didn’t take long for others to notice Julia’s potential. Winning the team’s rookie of the year her first season, Julia started making her mark off the bench, then worked her way into the starting lineup.
But Shelton knew Julia was just scratching the surface of what she could be.
“Her freshman year, she was a little too nice and a little too soft,” Shelton said.
Enter Sam Travers, Julia’s predecessor at center back for the Tar Heels, a second team All-America and captain as a senior in 2014. She took Julia under her wing early on, and Julia credits much of her development to Travers.
Travers thinks Julia is being too modest.
“She knew how to take criticism better than anyone I’ve seen,” Travers said. “She knew what to take in and to use and what to discard.”
Travers said that ability to learn from mistakes and fix the problems led Julia to develop quickly and build trust among her teammates on the back line.
“She’s the type of person — you feel as though she’s got your back,” Travers said. “Not only does the team trust her, but she’s the type of person who can trust herself.”
With her development on and off the field, Julia was ready for a bigger role when Travers graduated.
“I was kinda just put in this position where I had to step up,” she said. “The fact that I did get to play that much prepared me for now.”
Now in her senior season, Julia is ready for wherever life takes her. She could keep playing, working her way up the national team ranks. Or she could go to nursing school.
“She’s tenacious,” her mom said. “If she sets her sights on something, she’s gonna get there.”
Julia’s racked up several personal awards, with a first-team All-South region selection and a second-team All-America selection a season ago. This season, she’s already the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
But Julia is focused on the team’s goals — namely, leading UNC to the national title that has eluded her so far. That journey continues when the Tar Heels take on No. 1 Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals at 1 p.m. today in Winston-Salem.
After falling in the national title game a season ago, Julia knows what the Tar Heels must do to reach their potential. She can see it from her spot in the middle of the back line.
“When we’re playing our best, we’re running for each other, we’re recovering for each other, everyone’s playing offense and defense,” she said.
“I think my duty as the center back and the captain is to recognize that and kind of keep it going.”