Reaching the Division I level in one sport is hard enough. UNC sophomore Julia Dorsey did it twice.
A member of both the North Carolina women's soccer and lacrosse teams, Dorsey plays for two of the best college programs in the country in their respective sports.
She began playing soccer when she was 5 and lacrosse when she was 8. Early on, it became apparent that Dorsey was going to take her talents in both sports to the collegiate level. She began her recruiting process in the eighth grade and took her first visit to UNC as a high school first-year.
“I would talk to the soccer coaches while I was there, and pretty much voiced to them that I wanted to play both (soccer and lacrosse),” Dorsey said. “It was the perfect school to do it at, and it definitely worked out in my favor.”
Women's soccer head coach Anson Dorrance said she was the perfect fit for his program.
“She is just a wonderful, wonderful young woman," Dorrance said. "She’s funny, she’s fun to be with, she’s smart as freaking hell, which we also love. She fits into our culture like a hand fits into a glove."
Due to his respect for women's lacrosse head coach Jenny Levy, Dorrance gave the green light for Dorsey to play both sports. He believes Dorsey's training in lacrosse is a huge asset that has translated to her skills as a defender during soccer matches.
“She’s almost impossible to beat one versus one, and I actually attribute this a lot to the way lacrosse players have to defend,” Dorrance said.
'It's really admirable'
Aside from being a full-time athlete in two sports, Dorsey also has to find time to manage her coursework as she pursues a degree in advertising and public relations. Despite the workload, Dorsey has found effective strategies that allow her to excel in the classroom.
“You’re basically doing what every student at UNC does, which is hard enough," Dorsey said. "On top of that, you have practice, which is three to four hours if you include weight training. You definitely have to stay organized, but there’s a lot of resources to help with that."
Dorsey’s lacrosse teammate and close friend, sophomore Livi Lawton, said her friend's ability to balance such a demanding lifestyle is one of her greatest traits.
“She really does an amazing job of balancing her sports and her school work, while also having a social life as well," Lawton said. "It’s really admirable, especially since it’s hard enough with one sport."
Sophomore Nicole Humphrey, who has played alongside Dorsey in the same midfield line in lacrosse, credits Dorsey with being a positive, encouraging force in both practices and games.
“She brings a lot of energy and fire to the team, but with a good heart," Humphrey said. "She has a very genuine, hardworking mentality. She always gives 1,000 percent, and she makes everyone else better because she will go the extra mile to really push everyone else.”
The two programs Dorsey is part of are perennial championship contenders, combining for eight titles since 2000. While splitting time between the teams, she competes daily against some of the best athletes in the country in their respective sports.
Given the inherent pressure that situation brings, Dorsey has to maintain a top-notch work ethic at all times.
"You have to improve to keep up, and every day you’re in practice, you’re playing against the best competition in the country," Dorsey said.
'I should be starting this kid'
Dorsey made a name for herself on the soccer pitch from the start of her time in Chapel Hill.
As a first-year, she played all 110 minutes against Stanford in the Women's College Cup final, playing a key role in keeping the Cardinal off the board before the game went to penalty kicks.
From Dorrance's perspective, Dorsey's physical courage and toughness have proven to be critical to the Tar Heels' defense, even earning her a starting position during her first-year campaign. The 22-time national champion head coach said she won a starting role after sprinting for a 50/50 ball against the Tar Heels' crosstown rival.
“We were over at Duke, and there was this 50/50 ball between her and this Duke defender, and she didn’t hesitate," Dorrance said. "She went sprinting in, and I’m looking at this, and I’m really cringing because I’m afraid of this horrific collision that I know is going to happen because she was up against the bravest player for Duke."
One player stayed down. The other jumped right back up.
“They both smashed into each other, and next thing, the Duke player was lying on the ground like she was hit by a Mack truck, and Julia Dorsey popped up like an insect had hit her and ran back to her position," Dorrance said. "I thought, ‘I should be starting that kid.'"
'A lot of growing to do'
Dorsey came to UNC on a lacrosse scholarship. Now, she's gone from simply competing for a spot on the travel roster that goes from game to game to becoming a mainstay in Dorrance's starting lineup. So what's next? Well, Dorsey and Dorrance alike see a professional future in the soccer world for the two-sport athlete.
Still, Dorsey herself admitted that nothing is given.
“I think I still have a lot of growing to do," Dorsey said. "I have learned that putting in work outside of practice makes the world of a difference. Having an open mind and being coachable will take me far."
North Carolina's backline only allowed six goals throughout the shortened 2020 season. Dorsey, who started in every game she played, was a key component in the Tar Heels' stifling defensive attack. As her teammates noted, her defensive abilities have been further honed by an intense work ethic, regardless of the sport.
All of which Dorrance has noticed. The head coach, who has led future World Cup champions and top-level professionals throughout his 44 years in Chapel Hill, said reaching the next level is an attainable goal for the budding star.
“We are preparing a kid that will definitely sign a pro contract once she graduates,” Dorrance said. “I just have huge respect and affection for this kid that I just love training.”
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