BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- As a 12th-grader, the improvement has been dramatic for Juliann Lopes of the Gov. Livingston softball team, and her Senior Night performance was magical.

Lopes has taken major strides as both a batter and as a pitcher for the Highlanders, and on Senior Night, she pitched a three-hit shutout to lead GL to a 6-0 victory over Benedictine on April 30. Lopes struck out five and walked two in that game. A week later, she four-hit Summit and knocked in two runs with a pair of singles in a 5-1 victory.

Lopes is the TAPinto Berkeley Heights Athlete of the Week.

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"Three of her best mound appearances were home against A.L. Johnson, our Senior Night against Benedictine, and (this week's) game against Summit," said Gov. Livingston head coach Erin Lanigan. "When Juliann is not pitching, she is either in right field or in the DP position in our lineup. She is consistent at the plate, takes good at-bats, gets the count in her favor and keeps composure, and changes her approach when needed."

Lopes has boosted her batting average by nearly 100 points as a senior, batting .348 compared to .250 as a junior. She also continues to establish greater consistency as a pitcher as the season has gone along, as evidenced by her yield of just eight earned runs in her last 35 innings.

"Juliann can hit for power, lay down a bunt, or draw a walk because of how relaxed yet determined she is at the plate," Lanigan said. "She leads the team in runs scored and is second in hits. I joined the GL coaching staff three years ago as an assistant, and took over as head coach this year, so I've known Juliann since she's been on varsity as a sophomore.  She is extremely coachable, works hard every single day, and has been a true leader this season as one of our captains.  She's a good teammate, displays good sportsmanship, keeps composure when things may not be going her way, and remains humble when things are. "

Lopes took time out from her final weeks as a senior at Gov. Livingston to reflect on some questions posed to her by TAPinto Berkeley Heights:

Q: Have you seen your game change since your last year?

A: Yes, being a senior as well as the starting pitcher, I have felt a noticeable difference in my confidence at the plate and  on the mound. It might be because it is my last year playing high school softball but I feel as if every game has so much more meaning to me, resulting in me truly putting my all on the field.

Q: What has been the best advice you have received from a coach?

A: Last summer, one of the coaches on my club team told me to always believe that you have what it takes to be the best, even if you don't believe it or you don't feel like it is true, keep telling yourself that. Softball is just as much a mental game as it is a physical game, so being able to strengthen my mental game and learn to trust myself and believe I had the talent to get the job done really allowed me to produce to my fullest potential.

Q: Are you aspiring to play softball in college? What are your plans after high school?

A: My plans after high school is to attend Providence College as a biology major. Although I am not looking to play college softball at the varsity level, in order to focus more on my studies, I am certainly interested in trying out for their club team or participating in intramural softball.

Q: What do you like most about Gov. Livingston High School?

A: I love how all teachers truly have a student’s best interest in mind. Many of my teachers throughout my four years at this school have become my biggest supporter, helping me achieve academic, athletic, and personal goals. I have been able to form amazing relationships with many of my teachers. The bonds I have been able to form with some of my teachers have really helped me soar through high school.

Q: Who is your favorite athlete?

A: Jessica Mendoza. She was the first professional athlete that I was able to meet in person. I went to one of her softball clinics when I was younger where I was not only able to meet her but learn the fundamentals of the game. She autographed a poster for me which I kept hung on my wall as well as a jersey that turned into my prized possession. I was amazed by her talent on the field and admired the name she made for herself. Although she no longer plays, I think it is amazing that she still involves herself in the sport by becoming a broadcaster for ESPN.

Q: Do you have a role model?

A: While I dont have a true role model, my parents have given me a large share of advice and wisdom that has never steered me wrong. They taught me to always stay authentic and follow my passions. They put a large emphasis on the importance of hard work, and how life does not hand over things, unless you work for them. My parents have made me the person I am today through endless amounts of love and supports.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not playing a sport?

A: Besides softball, I have a large passion for nutrition and fitness. I really like going to the gym and learning all the amazing things my body is capable of doing. I love seeing and feeling my body getting stronger, especially in preparation for the spring season. I love cooking and baking food nutritious meals that will properly fuel my body which makes me feel great. Not only do I enjoy the preparation of my food but I equally enjoy cleaning my plate.

Also, I love to draw and paint. Before I even picked up a softball, my parents signed me up for art classes and I learned I had a passion for art at an early age. From there I constantly found myself practicing my art, learning new techniques and sharpening my skills. I could spend hours working on a piece and it feels as if 10 minutes has passed. It is definitely therapeutic for me to get a pencil and paper and just let my imagination run wild.

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Valairco Heating & Cooling is the proud sponsor of the Highlander Athlete of the Week. Kevin McHugh, Valairco Owner and President and Berkeley Heights resident, is an alumni of Gov. Livingston High School.

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