October 23, 2013

Dream Weaver

From high school gym clinic to the top of the world, Michele DeJuliis' journey captured greatness

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

© US Lacrosse

This article appears in the October issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

Worst-case scenario for a U.S. women's national team clinic: driving, pounding, puddling rain

Thus the kids trudged into the Loch Raven (Md.) High gym. A room full of twitchy teenagers who expected the chance to run around and play doesn't make for a great learning environment, but the Team USA players made the best of it, demonstrating their moves and explaining the game. At least one of the girls in the audience, a former softball player just a few years into her lacrosse career, was enchanted.

"We're high school kids who are hanging off every word that comes out of their mouths. I thought, 'I want to be one of them one day,'" Michele DeJuliis said.

DeJuliis did just that, joining the U.S. program as a Penn State freshman in 1994, following in the footsteps of Cherie Greer, Michele Uhlfelder and Sue Heether, the Team USA players who inspired her that day. She spent 15 years in the U.S. ranks before breaking through to her first World Cup team in 2009 — a team she captained to a gold medal in Prague.

"I've enjoyed every sport that I ever played, but lacrosse brought more intensity out of me," DeJuliis said.

Former Penn State coach Julie Williams remembered DeJuliis' unmatched joy on the field best from the star attacker's time in Happy Valley.

"It's in every ounce of her body that she's thrilled to be out there. Talent, skill, competitiveness — all that stuff is great. But the joy that she brought to the game was what I loved most about her," Williams said. "The challenge and her ability is one thing, but her spirit is another. She just takes everybody on her back and says, 'Let's go. Let's have some fun.'"

DeJuliis started for the Nittany Lions as a freshman, but Penn State went 9-6 in 1994 and missed the NCAA tournament. The 1995 season got off to a rough 0-3 start too, so Williams brought out the big guns for the team's bus trip down to Charlottesville to play Virginia: a videotape of the movie "Rudy." The underdog classic worked – Penn State won 9-6. DeJuliis had an inspired game.

Hall of Fame 2013

What: The National Lacrosse Hall of Fame induction ceremony

When: Saturday, October 26, beginning at 5 p.m.

Where: Grand Lodge of Maryland, Hunt Valley

Who: Jim Berkman, Quinn Carney Burke, Michell DeJuliis, Sue Heether, Bill Miller, Tracy Stumpf, Ryan Wade, Michael Watson.

Read more about the 2013 Class

Tickets: Online sale has ended. No ticket sales at the door. Call the US Lacrosse Special Events Department at (410) 584-7070 (x 172) to purchase tickets.

Cost: $135
 - includes cocktail hour with open bar and hors d'oeuvres from beginning at five, followed by the dinner/ceremony, with coffee, dessert and open bar continuing until 11 p.m.

"She was shining so much. Her spirit is like Rudy times 100. It was one of those miracle days," Williams said.

The 1995 team went on to a 12-6 record and a trip to the NCAA final four, falling only to eventual champ Maryland.

In addition to being a four-time All-American for the Nittany Lions, DeJuliis was an assistant at Princeton for eight years and the sole captain of that 2009 FIL Women's World Cup team that redeemed its 2005 loss to Australia. She retired from playing after that tournament but stayed on board as an assistant as the 2013 team cruised to a repeat championship this summer in Oshawa.

DeJuliis will join one of her heroes, Heether, among inductees into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

"She's a premier example of a team player with talent, who learned how to distribute her talent to the team," said Holly McGarvie Reilly, who played for DeJuliis at Princeton and with her in the U.S. program. "She really instills confidence in her teammates."

Early on, DeJuliis' professional career took a five-year detour away from lacrosse, when she served in the Baltimore City Police Department between 1999 and 2004 as a member of the SWAT team and later as a detective. Lacrosse was never too far away, though.

"I wanted to start a club and get an opportunity to give back to the sport," DeJuliis said.

With the Baltimore market fully saturated, DeJuliis founded what is now Ultimate Lacrosse in 2001 in the Philadelphia area. It started small, but grew quickly. She emphasizes the importance of developing players' characters along with their athletic abilities.

"Suddenly it was every day, every week. It was like my police job was my secondary job. I really enjoyed the impact I was able to make," DeJuliis said. "Now, it is my life. It is all I do. And I really do enjoying being on the field with kids of all ages, down to kindergarten and up to seniors in high school. I feel like if I can help them be better players and better citizens, that's the best reward I can get."

DeJuliis will get another distinguished reward for her gifts to the game of lacrosse when she's inducted into the Hall of Fame later this month among others who have paved the way for the sport.

"I'm so humbled by this. It's an honor to be considered a part of that group. I feel like it's an award that I couldn't have gotten without my teammates and coaches and fans and US Lacrosse creating opportunities for me to do what I love to do. This is the highest honor that I can get. I'm just completely thankful and grateful."

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