Some people are leaders; others are followers.
Julia Berg is a winner.
The Western Albemarle senior added to her championship pedigree last weekend by leading the Warriors to their third straight Virginia High School League state indoor track and field championship at Roanoke College’s Cregger Center.
Berg repeated as state champion in the 1,000 meters and ran the third leg on the Warriors’ state champion 4x800 relay team to secure Schewels Athlete of the Week honors.
“In the beginning of the season, we wanted to win the team state championship for the third time,” Berg said. “We knew that we were capable of accomplishing this if we all worked hard and did our best. It is such a great and supportive group of teammates and coaches. For me, I wanted to defend my 1,000-meter state title from last year. It feels great to have accomplished both of those [goals].”
Berg’s success on the track is especially impressive considering she didn’t start running until she was in eighth grader.
“I ran cross country with my friends at the same time that I was doing club soccer, then I did indoor track once the cross country season was over,” Berg said. “I really enjoyed it and have been doing it ever sense.”
Indoor track also has served as a great way to cross-train for her time on the soccer pitch. Berg credits her coaches for their support in helping her grow as an athlete.
“My coaches steered me to middle distances, and it felt right to me,” Berg said. “I have been playing soccer since I was four. I play both elite travel and high school varsity soccer and track has definitely helped to keep me focused and in top shape.”
The results are evident.
In 2017, she won a state championship with her club soccer team. The success has carried over to her high school team. Berg is an all-state center back and holding midfielder for the Warriors, who have won back-to-back state championships.
Soccer is no doubt Berg’s first love. She patterns her game after Julie Johnston, a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team.
“She is very driven and has a lot of grit,” Berg said. “On the field, she is one of the top defenders, yet she also is a goal scorer.”
In addition, Berg has enjoyed following the career of former University of Virginia standout Morgan Brian, who also plays for the U.S. National Team.
“It’s been very cool to watch her play and see her career grow,” Berg said.
Berg sees a lot of similarities between soccer and indoor track. Individually, you have the one-on-one battles within an individual race.
“Before I step to the line, I run through the race in my mind,” Berg said. “I just think about running my own race. When the gun goes off, I get out fast so I can set my own pace and not get boxed in. Throughout the race, I keep telling myself to keep that pace or go faster and not to fall back.”
The plan worked beautifully Saturday as she went to the front early and pulled away to win her race by more than a second.
The win marked the second year in a row that Berg had won the 1,000-meter state title. As a sophomore, she finished third in the race, with all three runners within 4/10ths of a second of one another. She returned last year and won her first state individual title and was determined to retain her title last weekend.
“I definitely felt pressure going into the race, but it was my last chance to win the title again and that was my incentive,” Berg said. “I just stayed focused on that goal.”
The day before, the Warriors set the tone for the meet with a victory in the 4x800-meter relay with Ella Taylor, Kate Ratcliffe, Berg and Sterling Hull. Berg’s split of 2:25.96 was the fastest of the unit and allowed them to win the race by nearly 30 seconds.
“The best part about a relay is working together as a team,” Berg said. “My coaches have put me in different legs, but no matter the order, I run all out. I think about doing it for my teammates. The challenging part is the handoffs, because the [passing] zone gets crowded. We just have to focus on each other.”
Outside of sports, Berg has a bevy of interests that keep her busy.
She is the co-leader of the Virginia Together Club, which helps build the student body build better relationships with special ed students. Katrine Berg, Julia’s twin sister, and Clare O’Connell organize activities such as cookie and pumpkin decorating, partner board games, bowling and special lunches.
In school, Berg is interested in psychology. In addition, she would love to play soccer in college. She’s received interest from coaches at Hobart and William Smith College as well as Swarthmore College.
“Sports have been a huge part of my life and given me structure and balance,” Berg said.
Outside of athletics, another one of her passions is travel. She has family in Denmark, France and England and makes routine trips to see them. In fact, Berg left Sunday afternoon for Denmark for a surprise 90th birthday party for one of her grandparents.
“I am really lucky that I am able to travel to visit them,” Berg said. “I can speak a little bit of Danish. I would love to do a study abroad in Denmark and become fluent”
Berg couldn’t have been happier to finish her indoor track career as a state champion.
“This year was not my best time, but I am incredibly happy with the results,” she said. “I feel so lucky to be a part of such a great team, with amazing coaches. I will definitely miss it next year.”