Posted: 04/20/2012 | Last updated: April 20, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Note: Due to inclement weather in Saturday's forecast, the start time for Saturday's doubleheader has been moved up to 11 a.m. Lehigh's seniors will be recognized prior to game one.
The term “student-athlete” is a phrase used to describe young men and women who strive to achieve perfection both on the field and in the classroom, to perfect a strong work ethic, and to gain lifelong skills in leadership. During her time at Lehigh, senior softball captain Julie Fernandez has proven to be a prototype for that ideal.
Recently, Fernandez was named one of ten finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS award. CLASS is an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, and the award recognizes senior student-athletes who excel in the areas of community, classroom, character and competition.
“It was shocking,” Fernandez said. “You don’t hear about Lehigh much in the softball world on a national stage. I was shocked to be up against girls from Stanford and Arizona State. It’s exciting; it’s a really good thing for Lehigh to be recognized. I think it’s great.”
For those that know her, the recognition is just the latest proof of Fernandez’s dedication to both her team and her studies.
“Julie is honestly the consummate student-athlete,” said Lehigh head coach Fran Troyan. “She works very, very hard on her academics. She’s a bright young lady as well, but she has to work hard to get great grades.”
For Fernandez, that drive to succeed has always come naturally.
“I've always been the kid who does their homework on their own,” she recalls. “I never missed an assignment; my parents never had to tell me to do my homework. I wanted to get straight A's all the time, even when I was young.”
That attitude has helped Fernandez achieve a 3.33 grade point average in Lehigh’s highly demanding Behavioral Neuroscience program, while also pursuing a minor in Spanish.
In 2011, she earned an Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sport Scholar Award, as named by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, as well as the Lehigh University Class of 1904 Scholarship award. Last spring, she was named to the inaugural Academic All-Patriot League team. Fernandez is currently applying to medical schools, and desires to become a pediatrician.
“I've known since I was young that I wanted to be a doctor, and I love children so becoming a Pediatrician is perfect,” said Fernandez, who has spent the past few summers shadowing doctors in her native California.
According to Troyan, the work ethic that helps her succeed academically translates easily onto the softball field.
“Basically, it’s who she is,” he says. “If she needs to be working on something with her swing, her fielding, or base running she works on it until she gets it right, and then she can utilize it in a game. She’s very good, from a softball perspective, at analyzing what she needs to work on, working on it, improving upon it and carrying it over into games.
Troyan added, “From our perspective, she’s a poster child of what Lehigh softball intends to be.”
Growing up in Moorpark, California, about an hour Northwest of Los Angeles, it was Fernandez’s aunt that originally got her involved in softball.
“I had two older cousins who were already playing and their mom actually signed me up without my mom knowing,” said Fernandez with a laugh. “My mom sort of freaked out because I was kind of a girly-girl and she wanted me to stay that way. She said that I was going to come home with all these bruises and she couldn’t handle it.
Fernandez continued, “She found out and she was so mad. She was going to go back and get a refund and tell them I wasn’t playing, but my aunt convinced her that it’d be good. She got used to it and now she really likes it…and it turned out to be pretty good.”
“Pretty good” may be an understatement for Julie’s college career. A four-year starter at first base, she followed up Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors in 2009 with a Player of the Year award in 2010, and is a three-time first-team All-Patriot League performer. She has also been an All-Region selection twice, and holds the school and Patriot League record for career doubles (currently at 60).
This season, Fernandez ranks in the top 20 nationally in batting average. Her 18 doubles top the Patriot League league, and she is second in the league in hits (59) RBIs (33) and total bases (88). She has also played a flawless first base with a perfect fielding percentage through 46 games. Her efforts at the plate and in the field have propelled the Mountain Hawks to a 30-16 record, including a 11-1 start in Patriot League play.
Fernandez has also emerged as a team leader during her time as a Mountain Hawk, being voted captain before her junior and senior seasons.
“She’s a leader by example, which is really important to the program,” said Troyan. “But she’s [also] a tremendous listener and she’s very empathetic. If some of our players, especially our younger players have things going on that they need to talk to somebody about, Julie is the person they go to. And she’s able to get people into a good frame of mind.”
“Freshman year I was pretty quiet,” said Fernandez. “We had really strong leaders like Lisa Sweeney and Whitney Lowe. So I just kind of learned from them and took a backseat and I think now I’ve been able to take what I learned from them and use it to help motivate the team.
She continued, “If I see that someone is doing something, I try to approach them and give them constructive criticism, help them out. Even with things off the field if someone is struggling I try to be there and support them,” said Fernandez.
Fernandez has dedicated much of her time to Lehigh Athletics, as well. She has been involved in the Student-Athlete Mentor program, as well as the Lehigh Athletics Leadership Academy. She is a graduate of Lehigh’s emerging leaders program, as well as the Leadership Legacies program, which teaches student-athletes how to effectively work with teammates and coaches to better lead her team as a captain.
This spring, Fernandez has also taken a role as a hitting coach, instructing local girls ages 14-18 in hitting techniques through her own swing coach.
“She’s going to give back to the sport of softball,” said Troyan. “She’s going to be coaching this summer. Julie is the type of person that, when we do run a clinic, all the little girls gravitate towards her because she’s got an infectious smile and just a tremendous personality.”
“For a while I thought once I’m done, I’m done,” said Fernandez. “But I’m giving hitting lessons now; I just started about three weeks ago. Now that I’m doing that it’s something I’d like to continue. I also have little cousins that will probably play, so it’ll be around my life for a while.”
“She definitely has all the tools to be a tremendous softball coach,” said Troyan. “She has a great understanding of the game but more importantly she has an understanding of people. She could take those skills that she has learned and honed here at Lehigh and take them and coach at a high level, if that’s what she chose to do. She’ll be great at whatever she chooses.”
When asked about how she became the student-athlete that she is today, Fernandez was quick to give credit to everyone around her, from her first coaches that drew her into the sport, to her current hitting coach, Doug, and to Troyan and his staff.
She also cited her family – Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles and cousins, for supporting her by doing everything from providing her with equipment and opportunities to hitting her ground balls and coming to her games, and her boyfriend.
“Most importantly my grandma and grandpa, who were and are my biggest supporters, my grandma and grandpa made softball what it is for me now, my escape, and they motivate me because I want to make them proud.”
Fernandez seems to be on track to fulfill the other part of the student-athlete axiom – to graduate from Lehigh with the knowledge and skills to succeed in all future endeavors, both personal and professional. For now, however, she is focused on the task at hand.
“We definitely want to win a Patriot League championship. Our freshman year we made it to the regional finals against Florida, so us seniors know what it feels like to be in that position, and now we want to come out with a win and make it to a super regional.”
One thing is certain; Fernandez’s contributions, both in the box score and as a team leader, will continue to prove invaluable to the Mountain Hawks.
Story by Gordon Stevenson ‘12
Fernandez and the Mountain Hawks will close out their regular season home schedule this weekend when the Colgate Raiders visit Kaufman Field for four games Saturday and Sunday. Lehigh clinched a berth in the Patriot League tournament after winning three-of-four games from Holy Cross last weekend. The Mountain Hawks currently lead Colgate and Army by two games in the league standings with eight league games remaining.
Lehigh is coming off a doubleheader sweep of Princeton on Wednesday, taking game one 3-1 behind strong pitching efforts by freshman Emily Bausher and sophomore Kelsey Lee, and then winning the nightcap 2-0 behind a two-hitter from junior Becca Bliss. Fernandez and Jen Colquhoun added two hits in the nightcap to remain atop most Patriot League offensive statistical categories.
Last year, Colgate won 2-of-3 games from Lehigh in a weather-shortened series in Hamilton, but the Mountain Hawks exacted revenge with a pair of convincing run-rule victories in the Patriot League tournament. Lehigh defeated Colgate 9-0 on day two of the tournament before claiming the tournament crown with a 14-0 win in the championship round. Liz Lucas had an especially strong day in the title-clinching win belting three home runs and driving in seven.
The Mountain Hawks and Raiders will play doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday at Kaufman Field. First pitch for game one on Saturday has been moved to 11 a.m., while Sunday's twinbill will begin at noon. Lehigh will recognize its senior class, consisting of Fernandez, Colquhoun, Tenley Halaquist and Audra Wood, prior to Saturday’s doubleheader, while Sunday’s twinbill will be broadcast live online at Lehighsports.com.