By NICK KOSKO
It takes a rare breed of student-athlete to have the ability to dominate in sports and in the classroom. These athletes are considered “do-it-all” types of kids because their success in the classroom translates to athletic competition, and vice versa. Imagine this: an athlete is ranked 4th in her graduating class of 556, is the National Honor Society president, plans on attending the University of Pennsylvania — an Ivy League school — and is one of the best runners in the state of New Jersey.
Sounds like an other worldly fictional character description in the next Hollywood blockbuster doesn’t it? Well you better look again, because those accolades belong to graduating Egg Harbor Township senior Julianna Catania.
Catania boasts a huge list of accomplishments throughout her track career and also was a key cog for the EHT field hockey team in the fall. Among those accomplishments, Catania placed 6th overall at the Meet of Champions this year in 3,200-meter race, was All-South Jersey in the 1,600 meters and also holds six school records each for indoor and outdoor track.
Not to mention she earned 11 varsity letters during her time at EHT and also earned four varsity scholar awards for academics.
This story could be a thousand words just describing her accomplishments, but that would do a disservice to her by minimizing the enormous impact she had on the Eagles’ track and field program.
Catania did not come out of nowhere to blow away the competition in South Jersey. There were expectations almost instantly when she took her first steps onto the track. Head girls coach Erika Vazquez saw the potential immediately and wanted to get Catania going. “Jules” as they call her, impressed eager coaches right off the bat.
“She is everything a coach would want in an athlete. Jules has always been extremely dedicated and passionate about the sport,” Vazquez said. “Every year she brought new goals and things to work on. As a coach, I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Even boys head coach Ryan Smith said his team could not ignore the amount of skill Catania possessed.
“She is such a stellar competitor and works her tail off in practice sessions and that translates to her meets. She even does workouts with the boys just to get extra work in and to further challenge herself,” Smith said. “Jules would even go to the other tracks around the county to practice when our gates were closed. That just exemplified her dedication.”
Catania never proved to be selfish, always putting the team first and remaining humble throughout her entire career. She was obsessed with the competition and always tried to improve herself and her teammates.
“Track was definitely what made high school great, as it was one of the biggest reasons why I loved showing up to school every day,” Catania said. “I’ve made so many memories with friends and teammates, and although there were ups and downs through it all, I was always enjoying myself out there.”
Catania continually strived to be at the top of her sport and she felt the mental aspect of running is the part that needed to be mastered in order to be her best.
“Sometimes you’ll be in the weight room or out on the track and be completely exhausted and just want the practice to end and it’s easy to lose confidence that way,” Catania said. “I am always saying to myself ‘you have to finish this workout’ and you know you’re doing it right and working to the best of your ability even if it hurts. At least that’s when I know I’ve pushed myself to my limits and I know I am getting better.”
All of that pain in practice led to Catania capturing third place at the outdoor South Jersey Group 4 championships in the 1,600 and handful of second-place finishes. Those included the 800 at sectionals and in the 1,600 and 3,200 at the indoor Group 4 championships. As far as breaking records and competing and winning some of the biggest races in New Jersey, Catania said she embraced the competition and would never sulk if she lost a race.
“I’m always humbled when I run against some of these girls. There are so many great runners in this state and it means a lot to me knowing I can compete with them and sometimes beat them as well,” Catania said. “Even if I don’t win a race, that immediately motivates me to do better in the next one. I always look back at my freshman year when I was constantly telling myself ‘I want to be one of those girls that is recognized as one of the best.’ I’ve always wanted that.”
Looking at Catania’s list of accomplishments, people may wonder what really pushed her to consistently get better. Her teammates were a big source of inspiration and Catania provided the support right back.
Senior Rachel Paduani ran the 800 and 3,200 and was one of Catania’s closest friends and teammates. She said they were always cheering each other on and picking each other up when they were down.
“We originally met through a mutual friend and that is when we all decided to go out for track as freshmen, and we’ve been close ever since,” Paduani said. “Before races she would always walk me over to my starting position and just help calm my nerves. She did that for everybody and you could see how much of an impact it had on everyone.”
“Teammates always calmed me down before a big race and Rachel would always be there to make me laugh and smile and just always keep me in a good mood before I went out there to run,” Catania said.
The two even found amusement during warm-up and practices runs on race day while running through the school’s nature trail behind the track.
“One time we were just running through that trail and found tadpoles and we decided to save them and put them in water bottles. I don’t know why it was so funny,” Paduani said. “It was one of those moments where you just had to be there and it kind of describes our friendship. Whenever we are together we just can’t stop laughing with each other.”
Track was not all Catania was known for. In the fall of each school year, she showed of her athleticism on the turf field in a field hockey uniform.
“I basically saw it as, half of the year I am doing track and the other six months I am doing field hockey, so it was a nice change of pace,” Catania said. “Obviously, there is a little more of a team aspect there, so I loved that, but it also helped me train for track conditioning-wise. The physical play of field hockey also kind of helped me out with the mental aspect of track, so I’ll never forget my days playing since the two basically went hand-in-hand.”
Looking ahead to her next four-plus years, Catania said she will be majoring in biological basis of behavior at the Penn. She also plans to run track as she looks to make the transition to the next level of competition.
“I am naturally competitive and I get a huge thrill out of that. After reaching my goals in high school, I am ready for the next chapter in my academic and athletic life,” Catania said.
“She is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had the honor of coaching,” Vazquez said. “The talent she possesses can not be replaced on our team because she is truly unique, but I am certain girls will follow her model of leadership and work ethic because she has had a tremendous impact on all of them.”
Smith also saw Catania being able to attend Penn as a great opportunity for her, academically and athletically.
“It’s pretty cool for her and our program because we go there every year to run in the Penn Relays and now we will still be able to see her there and cheer her on against college competition,” Smith said.
As for the legacy she leaves at Egg Harbor Township High School, Catania said she could not be more thankful to compete for the Eagles.
“I can’t wait to get to Penn, but looking back at high school, I will always remember my friends, teammates and coaches,” Catania said. “In the entire grand scheme of things, it was amazing.”
By NICK KOSKO