Getting sent to the sideline for a year hardly deterred Julia Lisella. In fact, it prepared her perfectly for the role she is taking over with authority for the Colorado women's lacrosse team.
At the outset of the season, head coach Ann Elliott promised her team would see a competition at goalkeeper, with fifth-year senior Sophia Gambitsky dueling with third-year sophomore Julia Lisella for the right to replace Paige Soenksen, who held that position through the first four seasons of the program's existence.
As the 15th-ranked Buffaloes hit the halfway point of their Pac-12 Conference schedule Friday night at Oregon, Lisella clearly has assumed command of the back end of CU's defense.
"I think they continue to compete in practice, which I think pushes each of them to get better and keep improving," Elliott said. "I think in the games, especially recently, I think Julia has gained a lot of confidence, and I think confidence is a huge part of the position. Especially when you haven't played, for Julia, in a couple years and hasn't really played at the college level. Early on, it's just about building confidence and having that presence out there on the field, and I think she's done that."
Lisella, a Littleton native who graduated from Columbine High School, appeared in two games as a true freshman in 2016. Yet last year, with Soenksen starring during her senior season and Gambitsky coming off her own redshirt season to handle the backup role, Lisella took a redshirt year to hone her skills with an eye on having three years of eligibility remaining after Soenksen graduated.
Instead of sulking at the idea of not even having an opportunity to hit the field, Lisella embraced the challenge.
"I think redshirting for me was a great opportunity," Lisella said. "I was really excited when Ann brought that up to me. My freshman year and especially last year I prepared in any way I could. I knew that preparation would pay off for moments like this year. Paige was an amazing goalie and I think learning behind her was just awesome every day in practice."
Gambitsky started the first three games of the season but Lisella has started the six games since. The 5-foot-10 sophomore began the week leading the Pac-12 with a .589 save percentage, a mark that also ranked second nationally. By comparison, Gambitsky compiled a save percentage of .346 in three games with a goals-against average of 13.6. Lisella owns a goals-against average of 8.14, which also leads the Pac-12 and ranks fifth nationally.
"Coming into the season, I think Sophia and I were confident in each other and in ourselves," Lisella said. "We prepared in similar ways, and I think at the end of the day she and I are teammates. We support each other no matter what, no matter who is in goal. As a team, we're confident in our goalkeeping.
"It comes with experience, and I think for me I was really craving that game experience. It's been years of practicing against the same players, seeing the same shots, so I was hungry to get out there and go against other teams. Each game I get more confident going out there and making those saves."