In watching Julia Sabol perform on the soccer field, she looks like a girl who has had the sport in her blood for a lifetime. Her hustle is unquestioned, her ability stands out and she appears to enjoy the game.
It’s hard to believe that as a little kid, she would wear a pouty face driving to her recreation games.
“I actually hated soccer, when I was like five, six, seven,” the Robbinsville High senior said. “I’m not sure why. My parents have pictures of me crying on the field and then I turned into some loving soccer player; it’s always been my favorite sport since then.”
The obvious question is, what changed?
“My dad and a couple of my friends’ dads and a mom started a soccer team with the GAK (German American Kickers in Hamilton) and we just took it up from there and traveled,” Sabol said. “It was just a little town team that we started, me and (Raven teammates) Julia Dottino and Ava Lake. We just all formed a bond and we’ve been together ever since.”
Sabol also plays on the Robbinsville golf team. But, she insisted that, “soccer is definitely my sport.”
She has shown that in a big way this season.
After scoring just one goal as a junior, which was her first varsity season, Sabol erupted this year. As the Ravens entered the state tournament with a 7-7-1 record, the attacking midfielder had 11 goals.
“She’s stepped up big,” coach Caitlyn Curran said. “She’s been four years in the program and she’s found her stride this year. She’s goal-hungry. She does what she needs to do, she’s tactically sound, technically very skilled and it’s worked in her favor this year.”
Asked if she is surprised by her effort, Sabol didn’t hesitate on the answer.
“Yes, I am,” she said with a smile. “I’m very surprised.”
So, what has led to this amazement?
“I think it’s just because it’s the big senior year, you have one season left, you want to produce well,” Sabol said. “I’m going off to college next year so it’s pretty important to make your mark now. My team is just creating the opportunities, and sending the balls where there’s space and it’s just kind of worked out.”
And while the player may be taken aback by her efforts, the coach had a feeling all along that Sabol would eventually contribute, as she believes in omens.
“I actually have a picture on my office wall of her during her freshman year; she got brought up for the state tournament when we won sectionals,” Curran said. “The seed had already been planted that she would make an impact in this program and she has done so in the past four years.”
Sabol played on the JV team as a freshman and swung between JV and varsity during her sophomore year. She was fulltime varsity last season and saw regular time before blossoming this fall. It helps being in the same position, as she has journeyed around the pitch throughout her travel and high school careers.
“When I was little I started off as a defender,” Sabol said. “Then I became a striker, moved to center-mid, then played mostly outside mid but still center-mid. I was all over the place.”
Throughout her rise up the ranks, she has shown constant improvement despite constantly learning new positions.
“She has progressed every day,” Curran said. “It’s why she’s a leader on this team, why she deserves to be on the field. What she is able to do helps us get better. I saw a big difference in her this year, absolutely, in her confidence. We’ve talked about that and just kind of knowing what you need to do to work to your strengths and not to your weaknesses. It’s kind of all worked out for her this year.”
One look at the statistics indicate how important Sabol’s scoring is to the Ravens. She tallied at least one goal in every one of their first seven victories. The Ravens were 0-6-1 in games where Sabol was held scoreless.
“Being she’s our leading goal scorer, there’s been a little bit of pressure put on her that we need her on the field and we need her to do her job, which is to score goals,” Curran said. “If I were on the opposing team I would definitely take a look at her numbers and say ‘They’ve got a girl who has 11 goals, we need to make sure she does not score.’”
One defensive slip-up, however, and Sabol will make a team pay.
“It’s all about the opportunity,” she said. “I like to create the space and send the balls where they need to go; but if I have the opportunity I have to take it.”
And she has the skills to know what to do with those opportunities.
“She’s very good with her feet; she’s confident with her feet,” Curran said. “She knows when to explode into space, she knows how to find the ball and once she finds the ball she sees the goal and she knows she’s gotta get there.”
Perhaps her biggest attribute is that intangible that all great scorers possess —a fierce desire to score.
“You can’t coach that,” Curran said. “Even that intensity, that drive, that’s something that’s been bred in her. I take no coaching credit for that. That’s just who she is and why she’s been successful.”
Aside from scoring, Sabol is also adept at taking restarts, and usually lofts a threatening corner kick into the box.
“I’ve always taken the free kicks and corner kicks,” she said. “You just have to see the spot where you want to place it.”
She is already seeing her spot when it comes to college, but is not quite sure where she will place herself just yet, other than in a warm-weather region.
“I will definitely be down south, maybe South Carolina, Florida, maybe Georgia,” said Sabol, who has a 4.085 grade point average. “I’m thinking of majoring in biology and going into embryology. My mom worked for some genetic and fertility companies, that kind of got me interested.”
Which goes along with her interest in soccer—something that seemed unlikely a decade ago.