By: Patrick Donnelly
For Julia Nearis, donning the Scarlet and White and playing at Walter Brown Arena marked a dream come true. To her, “Wally B” is more than just home ice for Boston University – it is almost quite literally her home ice. A Beverly, MA native, the freshman’s home is about half an hour from BU’s campus. Playing college hockey in-state was never a question.
“[Playing close to home is] amazing. I was in Connecticut [for prep school] for a while and being back here is something I definitely dreamt about,” Nearis said. “I was asked to go outside of [Mass.] during the recruitment process and I refused.”
“It’s definitely really special and I can’t wait to keep playing here.”
Nearis had plenty of opportunities to realize her dream during the recruitment process, as she had local options, but BU won her heart almost immediately.
“Out of all the visits in Massachusetts – Havard, BC, I thought about Northeastern – when I visited BU, there was the city aspect that I loved . . . it just felt a lot like home,” said Nearis. “With every tour I would go out to see the ice, look around and soak it in. A lot of the facilities were nice and pretty and all that, but I think BU had a lot of character.”
“Wally B is definitely where I wanted to play. Scarlet and white’s a great color combo, too.”
Nearis made her collegiate debut for BU last month, and scored her first collegiate goal in her second game, a 2-2 tie with the Merrimack Warriors at the Terriers’ home opener.
“[Scoring my first goal at home] was fun. Obviously with girls’ hockey we’re trying to get more fans to come out, and to have a crowd like that and hear the fans cheering for the first goal of the year in Wally B, it was special,” Nearis said. “Having my parents in the crowd was pretty cool. Hopefully it was one of many to come.”
So far, Nearis has not had false hope for her goal-scoring ability, as she leads the team in goals with six through the first 11 games of the season, with the fourth-most total points on the team with seven.
“I love to make plays,” the Kent School and Boston Jr. Eagles product said. “I love to rack up points, but whatever we can do to get the job done is good enough for me.”
The forward has been productive to start her college hockey career, even though she is learning on the job in the midst of a major transitional period for her game.
“Obviously it’s a quicker pace, so I’m working on trying to keep up,” Nearis, who is listed at 5-foot-9, noted. “I’m one of the bigger skaters out there, and there are some smaller girls in our league who are really fast, keeping up with them is definitely a goal.”
Not only is it an adjustment to the faster pace of Division I hockey, but the emphasis on strength and weight-training has never been stronger for Nearis.
“I’m lifting a lot more and getting a lot stronger. That’s definitely a point of focus for the girls here,” she continued. “I’ve been working with our trainer on my explosiveness.”
“I love it. I love being challenged. I eat that up.”
The challenge of adjusting to college life and Division I is not the only hurdle for Nearis this season. This season’s Beanpot is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated tournaments in recent memory.
Northeastern and Boston College are national powerhouses, as predicted, with BU a national force in its own right, putting the city on notice with its first tournament title in 38 years (first as a varsity program) last season. To add to the level of competition, Harvard, last year’s host and runner-up, has burst onto the national scene this season.
The Terriers capped off their celebration of last year’s title by raising the Beanpot banner before the home opener. As the winners of last year’s tournament, the Terriers will host the 2020 Beanpot at Walter Brown–Harvard hosted last year since BC repeated the previous year.
“After seeing the Beanpot banner being raised, right now that’s our goal,” Nearis added. “We’re also not trying to look forward. We’re taking it game by game, but when the time comes we’ll be ready because a lot of girls know what it takes and what it means to win something like that. So, I’m very happy to be a part of that.”
Not only is BU hosting the Beanpot, but the 2020 Women’s Frozen Four will be played at Agganis Arena, home of the men’s ice hockey team and a stone’s throw from Wally B.
“Obviously the NCAA’s are here, so with it being in your hometown you gotta win it,” the winger said.
“When I first committed, my first thought was the Beanpot and the NCAA’s.”
The Terriers returned all but three players from last year’s team – Reagan Rust, Mary-Grace Kelley and Connor Galway graduated – and a talented pool of freshmen joined this year’s team, including Nearis, who was a star at the prep and club levels, and Nadia Mattivi, who earned plenty of accolades on the international stage with the Italian national team.
With so many players on this year’s squad, like captains Sammy Davis and Natasza Tarnowski or All-American Jesse Compher, who have all experienced the high of reaching the top of the mountain in Boston college hockey and the low of championship heartbreak, the Terriers have quite the leadership foundation in the dressing room.
“[The upperclassmen] have all been really great with teaching me, especially during practice,” Nearis said. “The seniors, juniors, and even the sophomores, are all leaders for the team in their own way. That’s definitely something I’m very grateful for it.”
Nearis has already scored against Hockey East foes like Merrimack, Providence, and most notably, cross-town rival Northeastern. However, there’s one team on her mind heading into this weekend: the BC Eagles.
The Battle of Commonwealth Avenue is one of the most storied rivalries around the Boston sports landscape, taking center stage on the ice each season. Last month, Nearis made clear what she is most excited for this season, and that excitement will come to a head on Friday as the Terriers and Eagles are set to square off at Wally B.
“I’m pumped for the first game against BC. The Battle of Comm. Ave – that’s what you live for, right?”