ARLINGTON, Va. – Julia Ralston was a standout volleyball player in high school at Paul VI in Fairfax, where she also played basketball and softball.
Her father was in the Air Force, and when it came time to pick a college Ralston headed to the Air Force prep school.
But after time in Colorado, she decided she wanted to come back to Virginia for college. She ended up at Marymount, where she became one of the top volleyball players in program history as a libero under Head Coach Beth Ann Wilson.
"I remember watching Julia her senior season at Paul VI when I believe they went undefeated and she led the team to a state championship," Wilson recalls. "She was a very focused, intense competitor and did it all for Paul VI as a hitter. She always played at a level of maturity that her teammates did not always possess. I was thrilled when she contacted me about transferring."
Ralston was looking for a school closer to her family.
"She asked me to come out and tryout. I think she was familiar with a lot of people" at Paul VI, Ralston said of Wilson.
The all-around athlete thrived under Wilson, who had Division I experience after playing at William & Mary.
"She was really good with letting me be the type of leader that I was," Ralston said. "It worked well with her way of being a leader. It was a lot of fine tuning to the skills that I had and bringing a team together. It was just a good experience. It was fun to go to practice. She made us work a lot."
Ralston was Second-Team All-CAC in 2004 and 2005 and was then a First-Team pick in 2006.
She was a 2006 AVCA All-Region selection and was also an AVCA All-American honorable mention selection that year, just the second in program history at the time.
Ralston ranked 39th in digs at 6.06 per set in 2006 and ended her Saints career with 1,943 digs in three years, a school record that still holds to this day. She was a three-year starter and two-year captain for MU.
"At the college level she was best suited for the libero position, which was fairly new to U.S. collegiate volleyball," according to Wilson. "Since it was a new position, coaches didn't really know the impact of a great libero, so they had to be outstanding to really get noticed. She was one of the few liberos I can remember to receive All-CAC honors and definitely one of the only liberos to make it three times back in those early days of the position."
The demeanor of Ralston off the court also aided the Saints during her tenure.
"When I think of Julia a lot of great words come to mind – intensity, leadership, focus, drive, competitor and so many other words that describe the kind of person a coach wants on their roster," Wilson says. "As intense and demanding as Julia could be, she was also fiercely supportive and caring, which is why her teammates responded so positively for her high expectations. She was tough on them, but also there for them on and off the court."
The northern Virginia roots of Ralston helped MU build team unity at the home of her parents in Annandale.
"She would have the team over to her family's home for dinner and team-bonding activities or have inspirational quotes waiting in their lockers before a big match," according to Wilson. "She had a way of pushing and inspiring her teammates to be better than they thought they could be – maybe even I felt that way. We all wanted to come to the gym extra prepared and motivated to work hard because Julia set that tone – every day, every opponent, every point."
Ralston graduated from MU in 2007 with a degree in biology. She has worked for environmental agencies and has also coached club volleyball since leaving college, and still plays sand volleyball whenever possible. Ralston and her husband have two children, with twins on the way, and live in Yorktown, Virginia.
Editor's note: David Driver is a special consultant to the MU athletic department. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com