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The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

‘Big game player’ Julia Nearis putting it all on the line for a final shot at glory

Cat Murphy
Graduate forward Julia Nearis goes for the puck in the Nutmeg Classic semifinal game against UConn on November 24, 2023

Julia Nearis was on a visit to Quinnipiac when she first met women’s ice hockey head coach Cass Turner. She was in awe of the rink and the program that has established itself as a college hockey powerhouse. Except it wasn’t her own college visit – it was her sister’s.

Ultimately, her older sister Abigail went 82 miles east for a successful four years at Brown, and Julia shipped up to Boston University for four years as a Terrier.

“I was a little intimidated,” Nearis said. “The one thing I really remember was being in the weight room and I was still figuring out training as a young athlete … It was a little intimidating, but it was also inspiring to make me think I could be at that level one day.”

Turner remembers that day well, even if Julia wasn’t the main focus at the time.

“She was on a visit with her sister so it was kind of like a double-whammy,” Turner said. “I know her coach from Kent (her prep school) quite well. It’s a small world out there, we have a lot of connections.”

It was eight years before Nearis stepped foot in M&T Bank Arena again, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t find success along the way.

Hailing from Beverly, Massachusetts, the graduate student forward took a traditional hockey route, playing at a prep school before making the jump to college. Her plan? Play hockey at an Ivy League school like her older sister Abby.

“I wanted to see where I could go with the Ivy route, but that didn’t turn out,” Nearis said. “I looked at Hockey East schools and was choosing between BC and BU. Something about BU was so special, and playing so close to my hometown was pretty cool.”

Nearis went on to have a successful career as a Terrier, despite the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She finished her BU career with 31 goals, 33 assists and led the team in faceoff wins.

“I had a lot of fun (at BU),” Nearis said. “My freshman year was really awesome. I got to jump right into it … It was just a whole different game.”

Putting all the stats and the city she loved aside, there was still something missing for Nearis. Something that no amount of goals or assists could fix.

The hunger to win a national title.

“Unfortunately, the last two seasons weren’t the strongest performances from our team,” Nearis said. “All in all I had a great (four years) there … Boston’s one of my favorite places on Earth.”

So she began to test the waters, with her dad bringing up a place that was familiar with the Nearis family.

“My dad actually mentioned Quinnipiac when we were thinking about schools,” Nearis said. “I was like ‘Oh my God, of course.’ I knew it would be a grind but it’s been great to be around people that are so committed and love winning as much as I do.”

The first step in rekindling the connection was to reach out to goaltender Corinne Schroeder, a former teammate who, much like Nearis, played four years at BU before making the jump to Quinnipiac for a fifth year in 2021-22.

“(Schroeder) was actually the first person I reached out to, to ask ‘Hey are they looking for a forward for next year?’” Nearis said. “‘If so, could you call Cass for me?’”

Luckily enough for Nearis, the Bobcats were looking to bolster their front lines, and not long after officially entering the portal, a Connecticut number popped up on her phone. It was Turner.

Despite the initial urge to make the jump, Nearis took her time in the portal, making sure she made the best choice for her last year of eligibility.

“We talked to her for maybe two months,” Turner said. “In a lot of the transfer portal processes, it usually happens pretty fast. We really got a chance to talk about what this experience was going to look like, what it could be and how we could make it work. I think that was really important because it’s helped her find success pretty quickly here.”

Turner never hesitated in her desire to have Nearis join her squad, constantly checking in on her to make sure she was aware of just how much she was wanted, and needed, in Hamden.

Graduate forward Julia Nearis notches one assist in Quinnipiac’s game against Dartmouth on November 3, 2023. (Tyler Rinko)

“She’s a big game player,” Turner said. “If there’s an intense moment, you want the puck on Julia’s stick. She wants to make plays to win hockey games … to have her have that experience for four years of being a go-to player for BU, I think is important.”

In the end it was always a no-brainer for Nearis to join Quinnipiac.

“First off, I wanted to win,” Nearis said. “As much as I loved Boston I could tell that they’re in the midst of rebuilding. I didn’t want to partake so much in rebuilding as much as I wanted to win.”

The Bobcats are doing the opposite of rebuilding. They’re loading up to try and get over the hump that’s blocked them in years past, and Turner knows that a player like Nearis was exactly what they were looking for.

“She’s a playmaker. If there’s an opportunity to shoot or pass she’d much rather be the person to make the pass,” Turner said. “She does a nice job breaking the puck out. The patience that she has is huge, and definitely has helped our team a lot.”

Nearis’ passing ability has been on full display, tallying six assists through the first two months of the season. She’s also potted seven goals, with her best showing being a two-goal performance against UConn in the Nutmeg Classic semifinal game on Nov. 24.

For Nearis, she looked forward to playing in a much tougher league: ECAC Hockey.

“I wanted to test the waters with a new league,” Nearis said. “The Hockey East isn’t as strong as the ECAC. You want to have a tight game almost every time you go out there, and I wanted the experience of playing new teams.”

Luckily, Nearis views testing teams her speciality.

“I don’t know what it is, but making another team look stupid is kind of fun for me,” Nearis said. “I feel like I can be a step ahead of most people on the ice and I always try to use that to my advantage.”

Oftentimes the biggest challenge with a new veteran coming into a locker room can be the clashing of leadership styles. Just like on the ice, Nearis’ transition has been a seamless fit within the locker room.

“You’ll hear her on the bench when we need to pick it up a bit,” Turner said. “She’s not afraid to use her voice and be vocal to challenge our group when we need to be challenged, and the group has a lot of respect for that.”

Much like at BU, the goals and assists are nice, but it strays away from Nearis’ ultimate goal, one that she only has one last crack at.

“I want to go all the way with this team,” Nearis said. “When we’re on our best game it’s very hard to stop us.”

No, Nearis won’t end her Bobcat career as a career leader in any statistics, but she has the opportunity to lead the team to a place the program has never been, and if you ask her, that’s the only thing that matters.

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About the Contributors
Colin Kennedy, Associate Sports Editor
Cat Murphy, News Editor

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