Jan. 27, 2014
Severna Park, Md.
In 11 days, the Vanderbilt lacrosse team begins the 2014 season on Feb. 7 at Kennesaw State. To get ready for the 19th season in program history, vucommodores.com will spotlight all 29 players and coaches Cathy Swezey, Susan Ellis and Julie Gardner. This segment will offer an inside look into the team on and off the field.
Today, first-year assistant coach Julie Gardner continues our countdown. Gardner came to Vanderbilt after one year as an assistant at William & Mary. She was a two-time All-American midfielder at Virginia (2009-12) and helped the Cavaliers reach the NCAA Tournament all four years.
Gardner, who coached a club team in her hometown in Maryland for five summers, had played lacrosse competitively since she was seven. Lacrosse is in the family as her older sister, Tara, played at Loyola (Md.). The sisters split their only two meetings in college. Her younger sister, Kendyl, plays at High Point.
We sat down with her recently to talk about her playing days, coaching and her impressions of this year's team.
What was it like playing at Virginia and starting every game of your career?
I came into a good situation. I think there was two midfielders who graduated the year before I got there. So I was able to prove myself in fall practice and then throughout preseason. So I did earn that starting position. I was lucky to hold onto it for four years and stay healthy for four years. I think that is the biggest thing that most kids can't do throughout their career. Part of it is luck and part of it is taking care of yourself. I'm really, really happy that I was able to stay healthy for four years.
How would you describe yourself as a player?
I would say grit is a good word. I hustle. I'm a runner so I played midfield for the majority of my career. I liked being on both ends. I wasn't as vocal. I more led through my actions. I would like to say reliable. I tried to show up mentally for every practice and game.
Looking back at your career do you take a lot of pride in what you were able to do individually and with the team? Being a two-time All-American is that something you take a lot of pride in?
I think those kind of things do make your career a little bit more memorable. But, at the same time, what it comes down to is who you are playing with, day in and day out and how you grow as a team. I think we definitely learned a lot of things in life in being on the lacrosse team at Virginia. Our coaches really take pride in doing that and preparing us for, not just games, but life after college lacrosse. Because not many people make a career out of it. Coaching is one thing but it's not like you are going to go and play professional lacrosse. So they do take a lot of pride in setting us up for our future.
Is that something you're trying to instill in the team now?
Yeah. Absolutely and I think (head coach) Cathy (Swezey) and (assistant coach) Sue (Ellis) do a really good job of instilling that as well. We allow girls to go out on interviews, mostly during the fall season, not so much during our spring season. We definitely encourage them in setting themselves up for the future. I think that is part of why I was so excited about this job because it reminds me of when I was at Virginia. In some ways, the coaching staff reminds me of my old coaching staff as well.
Do you feel like you fit right in with this coaching staff? I know you've only been here six months.
Yeah. I will never be as close as Cathy or Sue, who are best friends from college. They've been coaching together for 15 years. I think that is something really special and it is hard to come by. I really respect what they've done with the program here and how they've worked together for so long. I think it is really cool and that is similar to my coaches at Virginia. So it is nice to come into a situation where you've played to someone similar to that style.
Did you always know you wanted to coach?
I've probably had coaching on my mind since my senior year of high school. I always helped out with local camps. Then I also coached my local club team starting the summer after my senior year of college. I really, really enjoyed that first experience of being the head coach of that club team and what it felt like to be in charge of a team and be influential on their lives. I think that is where I really started to enjoy coaching and I continued doing that through college. After college, I was like, 'OK, I can make a career out of this.'
What do you enjoy the most about coaching?
I think it is the interaction with the players. On the field, when you're trying to teach them a skill and help them improve on the skill. Then it is like a light bulb goes off and they're like, 'Oh, my gosh. I did it.' It is exciting to see them be successful and help them through hard times if they're not doing as well as they would like to do. Helping them with the mental side of their game. If they look to you for advice in everyday life, it is really cool to see them respect you and trust you with somethings that our personal to them.
You think, in some ways, it is an advantage for you as a young assistant coach since you're only a couple years removed from college?
I think that is the cool part about being the younger assistant. They know that you just recently went through the same things. They are more likely to ask you certain questions. Nothing against (Cathy and Sue), but they were the younger assistants at one point, too. So they do realize the role the younger assistant plays.
Is there anything in particular you miss about playing?
Just being on the field every day. Whether it is a good day or bad day of practice, lacrosse is the sport I love. So to be able to play and be intense every day. I miss the workouts as a team. People always say I will never do a squat or a dead lift or a power clean after I graduate. Working out with the team in the weight room or running after practice with the team, those are the type of things I really miss actually. Pushing yourself further than you ever thought you could. You finish it and you're like, 'Oh, wow. I did that.' I did it because I had my friends alongside me helping me out.
What do you like most about this year's team?
They are funny. They are really funny. And they are really, really close. I only have Virginia and William & Mary to compare it to but they are extremely close as a group of girls. They're honest with each other.
Age I picked up a lacrosse stick: Four or five years old
When I was a kid I tried to be like: My older sister
A few words that describe the way I played lacrosse: Hard working and smooth
The thing that impresses me most about Coach Swezey: Her ability to balance work with her personal life, as well as her intensity and knowledge of the game.
Favorite part about coaching at Vanderbilt: Perks of being in the SEC (cough, cough our new indoor facility)
Favorite sport other than lacrosse: To play: field hockey. To watch: football.
Favorite musical performer: The Wild Feathers
Favorite movie: Pitch Perfect
Nobody can believe I watch this TV show: Revenge
Favorite midnight snack: Frozen mango chunks
Favorite thing about myself: My nail beds
Worst habit: Cracking my knuckles
Dream Date: Surprise me
The best tasting food I can make: Shrimp linguine
My bucket list includes: Hiking a 14'er, run a marathon, sky diving
Favorite athlete to watch in another sport: Torrey Smith
Talent I’d most like to have: To be able to sing
Favorite thing to do away from lacrosse: Yoga
One thing my hometown is famous for: The water
Favorite aspect of Nashville: Live music
The person I’d love to trade places with for a day: (U.S. soccer player) Alex Morgan
What I would do if I won the lottery: Put a large chunk in savings, travel Europe, buy a beach house, donate to a charity I feel strongly about
Ultimate vacation destination: Italy
The person I admire most: Colleen Shearer (assistant coach from University of Virginia)
Career goal: To coach a team to a Final Four appearance
The most famous person I’ve met: Gavin DeGraw
The best advice I’ve received: You can't control what happens in your life, but you can control how you respond to challenges and how you help others through it (not the exact words but close enough) - From my head coach at Virginia, Julie Myers
Biggest influence in my life: My parents
Most important thing I’ve learned since coming to Vanderbilt: Importance of balancing work and personal life
My advice to young people is: Everything about you - emotions, feelings, physical body, mind/thoughts - and your life - events, circumstances, relationships, the world in general - is constantly moving, changing and shifting. Always work hard but also accept those things you can't control and learn to adapt to life's circumstances.