Julianne Kopec was sitting in Newark Airport last Friday night waiting to hop on a flight to Orlando.
Just a few hours earlier, the junior at Red Bank Catholic ran the best 1,600m race of her life, blasting a NJ#2/US#9 4:56.86 to win the Shore Conference title at the Bennett Center in Toms River. Now she was racing to get to Florida to join her Jersey Intensity Club teammates, who were playing in a showcase field hockey tournament at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
Kopec's flight was scheduled to take off at 10 p.m., but after some delays, she didn't land in Orlando until after 1 a.m., and didn't get settled in her hotel room until nearly 2 a.m.
In the four games Kopec played with her under-19 club team, she scored two goals from her midfield position, including a game-winner.
Sure, Kopec was exhausted when she returned home on Monday. But that's nothing new for Kopec, who understands that it comes with territory. She has dedicated much of her life to being a two-sport star, pulling daily double practices multiple days a week, juggling the extremely rare combination of field hockey and track and field star.
Image from Kopec's field hockey play for RBC in the fall.
"It was a fun weekend,'' said Kopec, who also ran a NJ#3/US#12 2:11.91 to win the 800 at the Metropolitan Invitational at the NY Armory last Wednesday. "To run my PR's in the 800 and 1,600 and then play in four games in Florida was such a great feeling. When I got home, I was wiped out and didn't do anything all day because I was pretty tired. But this is what I love to do. I am used to this being my life, and I just love it.''
It's one thing to compete in both sports, but how many athletes reach All-State status in field hockey and are one of the state's best 800/1,600 runners?
That's something you hardly ever see!!!
But Kopec is a unique talent, the kind of athlete that epitomizes what today-National Girls and Women in Sports Day-is all about!!!
Kopec's dual sport domination is a great example of the benefits of competing in more than one sport.
"I have such a passion for both sports,'' said Kopec, who was chosen to compete for the U.S. Women's National Developmental Indoor team. "I love being on the track. Then as soon as I'm done with practice or a meet, I can't wait to get to field hockey. I love them both equally.''
Watch Kopec's 4:56.86 winning 1600m from Shore Conference
Kopec loves the two sports so much that she has already given a verbal commitment to play field hockey and run track at Temple University.
As far as how she got her start in running, Kopec followed in the footsteps of her sister, Maddy, now a senior star on the track and cross counrty team at RBC. Maddy, who helped lead RBC to the State Non-Public A XC title this past fall, will continue her running career at Fordham University.
"I started running cross-country in Catholic school meets in third grade after my sister started,'' said Julianne. "I didn't start running track until seventh grade (with Next Level Running Club) , and I started field hockey when I was nine or 10.''
Kopec was born with field hockey in her blood, literally!
Her mother, Melissa Paolantonio Kopec, was an All-State field hockey player at Shore Regional in the late 1980's under legendary coach Nancy Williams, and is a member of Shore Regional's Hall of Fame. She went on to become an All-American at Villanova.
While her mother has had a huge impact on Kopec's field hockey career, Kopec said her mother is also the reason she stuck with track and field.
"I wanted to quit track the first year I did it,'' said Kopec. "Practice and the workouts were just so hard. But my mother said quitting isn't something we do, so I stuck with it and I'm glad I did. The next year, I started to really love running track, and qualified for the AAU Junior Olympics in the 800 and 1,500 (she earned All-American honors in both) in the summer before my freshman year.''
Kopec said she's surprised herself with how fit and fast she is this season, especially since she's had to play catch up in her training while most the other top milers in the state had already built up very strong base during cross-country while Kopec was playing field hockey for RBC.
"I never expected to be running this fast at this point in the season,'' said Kopec. "I just feel that I am a much more confident and mature runner, and a smarter racer. And I'm very motivated.''
Kopec's motivation for a huge junior season started when she ran a supbar race at the Millrose Games Trials on Jan. 8 when she finished seventh in 5:10.56.
"That was a bad race for me and fueled me to work even harder and reach for some big goals,'' said Kopec.
Kopec's 2:11.91 and 4:56.86 qualified her for the next month's New Balance National Championships at the NY Armory.
"Getting those qualifying times was a huge goal for me,'' said Kopec. "But now getting under 2:10 and getting into the low 4:50's or maybe even under 4:50 are two of my biggest goals
While Kopec has thrived individually, she has also enjoyed a lot of success on RBC's loaded relay teams.
She anchored RBC to the State Non-Public A DMR title last month with a 5:01 carry to bring the Casey's across first a NJ#6 12:26.60. She also anchored the 4x800 to victory in a NJ#5 9:33.57 at the Monmouth County Relays.
"My favorite thing to do in track is run the anchor leg in a relay,'' said Kopec, who will next compete at the Eastern States Championships on Feb. 18 at the NY Armory. "It's so much fun to run with my sister and my teammates. Winning a race together with your teammates is such a great feeling.''
Running PR's+anchoring winning relays+scoring goals!
No one does it better than Jules Kopec!!!