Last Wednesday, on the day that was supposed to be the eve of high school lacrosse’s postseason, Julia Sullivan put on her jersey at home.
Surely it was bittersweet to wear the black and gold top for what very well may have been the final time. But the uniform number reminded Sullivan, a senior at Moorestown High School, of where she began three years ago and all that had been accomplished since she joined the prestigious lacrosse program.
For more than two decades, the No. 51 jersey has been passed on from a graduating senior to a rising senior at the start of the summer. The recipients are chosen for their leadership ability and for emulating the Quakers ethos of putting the team before the individual.
Sullivan didn’t get to play a game this spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She never got to wear 51.
“Kayla Frank gave it to me and told me it’s really about leadership and how it embodies what it means to be a part of this Moorestown lacrosse program,” Sullivan said. “At first, it was easy to think, this stinks, I won’t be able to compete and lead with No. 51. But really, at the end of the day, hopefully I’ll be able to know I was able to pass down some of that leadership and help make an impact on this team. That’s what matters.”
An endlessly positive scholar athlete who rose from not making the varsity squad as a freshman to an impact player as a junior — and someone who picked up her second sport ridiculously quick, being crowned a champion in the fall, too — Sullivan need not worry whether she did No. 51 justice in 2020. Even if her high school athletic career is missing what would have been a memorable final season, Sullivan will leave behind a legacy the next upperclassman at the school should hope to emulate.
Eager to get her collegiate lacrosse career started in 2021 in the Ivy League at Columbia University, Sullivan was a member of two state championship lacrosse teams at Moorestown and, despite not joining the tennis team until 2018, teamed with fellow senior Julia McBride to win the South Jersey Interscholastic Championships doubles tennis title this fall. This winter, Sullivan was among a select group of 10 South Jersey girls recognized as an Outstanding New Jersey High School Female Athlete at the National Girls and Women in Sports Celebration at Seton Hall University.
In short, Sullivan embodied No. 51 throughout her career, even if she lost the opportunity to wear it this spring.
“The thing that stood out the most was that she is just a born leader,” said Moorestown tennis coach Steve Dickerson. “Her enthusiasm is infectious, and people gravitate toward her magnetic personality.”
“She embodies the competitive spirit, skill and tradition of Moorestown girls lacrosse,” said Quakers lacrosse coach Colleen Hancox. “She empowers her teammates through positive encouragement, she leads by example on the field and in the classroom and she is dedicated to upholding the standards of the program.”
Unlike her path to the tennis team as a junior, something she nearly did on a whim to be a part of a new team with her younger sister, Laura, Julia Sullivan has been playing lacrosse since the third grade. Her mother, Michelle, played the sport at James Madison University.
“My mom was my role model and I wanted to do what she did,” Julia Sullivan said. “I remember one day, I picked up her wooden stick and said, ‘I’m going to play lacrosse, too.’”
Not long after, she joined the town’s youth program, got involved with club teams and fell in love with the sport.
Although it’s clear Sullivan has been gifted with natural athletic abilities, she’s thankful for the path she took to joining Moorestown’s varsity roster: she didn’t become a regular starter until her junior season. Sullivan used words like “obstacle” and “challenge” to describe those first two high school seasons.
“I always wanted to compete at the highest level,” she said. “But I wouldn’t change anything. I cherished those years. Those obstacles and challenges I faced, it would have been easy to quit and stop, but it made me into a stronger and more confident player. It made me work even harder, not only as an athlete but it made me a stronger person, too.”
As the oldest of three sisters, Sullivan naturally wants to set an example for her younger siblings. She did that in her high school athletic career, as her work ethic, positive mentality and perseverance paid off in her final two, decorated high school seasons.
Sullivan’s path has also informed her career interests. She plans to study either psychology or pre-med at Columbia, with the idea of eventually working in sports psychology.
“It’s a huge part of the game and why my game elevated so much from the beginning of high school to my junior and senior years,” she said of the mental side of the game.
“You can have all of the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the mental toughness or the mental strength, you’re not going to be able to succeed. So I think helping others, to be able to help them in their own careers with the mental aspect of it, I think it’s huge and I would love to make a difference with that in a career one day.”