Julia Palin was enamored with Louisiana State University. But she did wonder if her senior year at Norton High would be the finale of her track-and-field career. Soccer too.
LSU is a Division 1 athletic program in the Southeastern Conference. That’s a long way from the Tri-Valley League, though she certainly left her mark in the TVL. Palin was the league’s co-MVP for spring track in 2018, captured state titles in three events as a senior, set 15 school records at Norton, and was a Globe All-Scholastic selection. She was a four-year, three-sport athlete.
Her decision became much easier when LSU offered her spot in its track program last spring. Palin cried tears of joy at the news. She had other options, but she felt like the school, and Baton Rouge, fit like a glove.
And a month in, there have been no regrets.
Running cross-country, Palin has already earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors (Sept. 15), the first woman in program history to be so honored. She has been the Tigers’ top finisher in three straight meets, including the 63rd Joe Piane Invitational in South Bend, Ind., in which she was the seventh-fastest first-year runner, completing the 5K course in 17:37.92. She was 36th overall.
Q: How do you like LSU so far?
A: I just love it here. It’s absolutely amazing. I just love the atmosphere of the school, sort of the Division 1 spirit of it. I’ve always loved sports, and being around so many amazing athletes is so cool. You see them walking around campus and then the next day they’re becoming All-Americans. It’s surreal.
Q. What led you to LSU?
A: I’ve actually been coming to LSU football games since I was a baby. My mom [Leigh Anne] is from here. I always had LSU in the back of my head when I thought about colleges, but I didn’t think I could run here. I always thought I could go here but I’d have to give up soccer and track.
Q. How are you balancing adjusting to college life with D1 athletics?
A. It’s definitely hard. It’s a lot. But personally, I always like to have things to do. I like to go from one thing to the next. I wouldn’t like it if I wasn’t busy. In my experience, it’s really about keeping yourself accountable, and knowing what you need to accomplish. If I stay on top of things it’s manageable, and I love it.
Q. How is LSU a bigger challenge running than in high school?
A. It’s definitely harder. Basically every workout is nothing like what I did in high school. It was helpful to be able to adjust over the summer a bit. Coach [Dennis Shaver] didn’t give us full workouts but we got a taste of what things would be like. It was a nice little bridge. There are longer intervals and more repeats than in high school.
Q. What has been your focus early on?
A. I’m just trying to stay with the top girls on the team. We have an amazing group, and I just try to hang in there with them. They really push me.
Coach held a couple of our top girls out of the [LSU Invitational] to save them for bigger meets, so I had it in my head to take the chance and make my mark. Going forward, I want to stay with the top three on the team and I want to do whatever my coach wants.
Q. What’s it like to be competing in one of the top conferences in the country?
A: It’s crazy. Every time I look in the mirror and see an LSU shirt, it doesn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real. Just knowing the history of the SEC and of LSU track, it’s such an honor.
Q. What’s the team dynamic like?
A. I love my team. We all get along really well. We have fun and we laugh a lot together. But we’re also able to work hard when we need to. It’s really the ideal environment. It’s not terrifying or cutthroat, but when it’s time to work, we work. We’re very supportive of each other.
Q. What do you like about living in Louisiana? What do you miss from Massachusetts?
A. People here are really friendly. I really feel cared about here. Also, I’m a big seafood person, and there’s a lot of good seafood here. I also enjoy the warmer weather here.
Of course I miss my family. I miss the Patriots. I miss fall in New England, and Boston sports.
Q. What are you studying?
A. I’m a kinesiology major. I love my history and philosophy class, and also a gen-ed class on American popular music. That one’s awesome.
Charlie Wolfson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.