NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — After a phenomenal career as a dual-sport athlete for West Essex High School (WEHS), Athlete of the Week Julia Russo will graduate from this month having left an undeniable mark on the Knights’ athletic program.
“I wasn’t keeping up with my stats as much as I should, I was just playing just to play,” said Russo, who has been a staple for West Essex on both the girls lacrosse and field hockey programs.
This spring, Russo became one of only four athletes in the history of WEHS to record 100 career goals in multiple sports. She finished the season with 100 goals and 26 assists in lacrosse, and with 108 goals and 79 assists in field hockey.
“I am so proud,” said Russo. “I wasn’t even expecting that. It kind of snuck up on me, so when I found out I thought it would be a really cool accomplishment and I didn’t even know there were so little [amount] of people at West Essex who have done that so it’s really cool.”
For Russo, the feat was even less likely at the start of the season. After committing to play field hockey at the University of Pennsylvania, the soon-to-be graduate was looking to take a break from the spring sport for rest, but ultimately decided to return for love of the game and team.
“I was actually debating on playing lacrosse or not because I wanted to focus on field hockey, so when I ended up playing I [felt] it was my senior year and I’ve played lacrosse forever so why not,” said Russo. “I’ve had such a passion for the program and the sport, so I think it was about enjoying my time with the program and doing the best we could and wherever it took us.”
The Knights had the potential for a bleak season after losing a number of key seniors last season, but as one of the leaders on the squad, Russo took a team-first approach to enhancing the skill set of others around her to make the tough 8-11 season more enjoyable for all.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year, so I think this year was about building a strong team connection between everyone,” said Russo.
Even more impressive than her leadership on and off the field was Russo’s ability to single-handedly win games for her team. One particular instance of this was against Ramapo, where the senior tallied nine goals in a 14-12 overtime victory.
“I think that’s the most goals I’ve scored in any sport in any game ever,” said Russo.
Although the Ramapo game stands to Russo on an individual level, the midfielder said a loss to Bernards in the end of the season also resonates with her. Russo said the memory of dawning the red and black for this final game will hold a special place in her heart.
“Bernards will also stand out for me because it’s the last time I will play for the West Essex program and [head coach] Jill Cosse,” said Russo.
As she heads to UPenn to continue her field hockey playing career, Russo said she knows she has a tough task ahead of her in trying to make a new mark on a different athletic program, but accepts the challenge head on.
“[I will] keep working hard because that’s the only thing you can do,” said Russo. “I know it’s hard coming in as a freshman and hopefully I will get used to the program and playing.”