Julia Demeester and team Ontario won gold in the 2017 U-23 Field Hockey National Championship with a 5-0 victory over the BC Rams on Monday, July 24.
In pool play, Demeester scored a game-tying goal in the 66th minute against the BC Rams. The game eventually ended in a 3-3 tie and played an important role in seeding for the semifinals. Ontario eventually earned the No. 1 seed on goal differential.
In the championship game, Demeester scored two more goals to finish with three for the tournament, which was held in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
Demeester, an Elizabethtown Area High School graduate, was born in Ontario and owns dual citizenship in the United States and Canada. Her family, including her Canadian father, moved to Pennsylvania when she was 4 years old.
The field hockey standout was a four-year varsity starter at Elizabethtown. She scored 31 goals and assisted on 19 more for 81 points. Her offensive prowess earned her a spot on the Lancaster-Lebanon League All-Star team twice, Team Offensive MVP twice and a PIAA All-State selection her senior season.
Demeester commit to Old Dominion University during her junior season, but as the PIAA All-State selection would indicate, she did not coast her way through her senior season.
“Playing for Elizabethtown meant you were the underdog team. Everyone looked past us and we weren’t a big threat, but we shocked people. There was never a year that we didn’t make it to Districts or weren’t in the running for section champs. We always were putting up a fight,” Demeester said.
Her commitment to ODU was not an easy one, she said. Michigan State and Syracuse were two schools that were pursuing her the hardest. Old Dominion does have one thing that no other school in the nation can offer: national championships. Pairing the team success and location near the Virginia coastline were two factors that drove Demeester to ODU.
“Old Dominion felt like home. The coaches made my decision easier because they told me what they wanted from me right from the start. With some coaches it is more of a game, but they didn’t play around. I felt I would be happiest here and I haven’t questioned my happiness at Old Dominion,” Demeester said.
The coaching staff that Demeester was referencing is led by Andrew Griffiths. The Western Ontario University graduate is heading into his fifth season at Old Dominion. Prior to coaching the Monarchs, Griffiths was the head coach at Lafayette College. He was also a member of the Canadian men’s national team, appearing in 214 international games, including the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Griffiths discovered Demeester at an ODU summer camp three years ago.
“She really stood out. Her energy, work ethic and approach to learning was great. Camps and clinics are the best way to recruit because you can work with players on campus. We’re always recruiting and it’s getting earlier and earlier in our sport, which makes it difficult. We have to project what someone is going to be like in one, two or three years’ time,” Griffiths said.
After she arrived on campus, Griffiths said that she has fit in well and maintained that work ethic that she displayed at the summer camp. She has also remained willing to listen and is critical of herself so that she can continue to learn and get better, he said.
Once the preseason preparation was taken care of, Old Dominion traveled to State College to play Penn State in the season opener. In addition to it being her first collegiate game, Demeester was nervous for more than one reason.
“My brother currently goes to school there and that is probably where my family thought I would end up. I was nervous, but I knew that I prepared all that I needed to and my fitness was the best that it has ever been,” Demeester said.
She logged a few minutes during the game, but was able to learn a lot from the opening experience.
“The practices in college aren’t different. They’re still full intensity like they were in high-school, but at the collegiate level you’re playing with the best of the best. In high-school there were maybe five girls that really wanted it. In college all 11 players want one thing and that’s to score and win the game,” Demeester said.
She went on to play in 13 games as a freshman and recorded an assist against James Madison that tied the game that ODU eventually came back to win.
“ODU has such a rich history that getting any playing time is a big accomplishment. I got more than I was expecting,” Demeester said.
As she prepares for the upcoming season, Demeester has been able to reflect on her freshman campaign.
“I learned that I can never have a rest practice. Every practice I have to give 110 percent. At the collegiate level there is no such thing as a bad day. Sometimes I used being a freshman as an excuse and I can’t let my emotions get in the way. If I want to be successful I have to be in the weight room, running and preparing. Practicing well in college is the difference between getting playing time or sitting on the bench,” Demeester said.
Griffiths and his staff would like to see her develop a more consistent approach toward the game. She has periods where she can be hesitant at times, but when she is aggressive and confident that is when she makes an impact, he said.
“In the spring she had a few periods of training where she was impactful. For us, that is a standard that she has set for herself. We know what she is capable of and we really try and connect with Julia on a consistent basis. It is about finding the balance between pushing her and supporting her,” Griffiths said.
Perhaps with her coach’s suggestion in her mind, Demeester said that she has focused on becoming more mentally tough this off-season.
“Being mentally tough is the difference between an elite player and someone that makes excuses. If I can get my mental toughness as strong as my physical toughness I’ll be unstoppable,” Demeester said.