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Shoot Your Shot: All-American Goalie Julia Lisella Moonlights on Runway

This article appears in the November edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, available exclusively to US Lacrosse members. Join or renew today! Thank you for your support.

Hungry during a Colorado women’s lacrosse practice? In need of a quick sugar rush? Hang out close to Buffaloes goalie Julia Lisella.

“For practice, she’ll always have some sort of candy in her pocket, usually a pack of Skittles,” said former teammate Jen Mistretta, who graduated in May. “She’ll eat a couple Skittles throughout practice. I’d run over and ask for some all the time.”

The 2018 IWLCA Goalkeeper of the Year and IWLCA first-team All-American is a program staple for Colorado, and she’ll play her sixth year this spring as long as COVID-19 doesn’t alter another lacrosse season. The program cornerstone is the unquestioned leader of Ann Elliott Whidden’s team and has a certain inviting, approachable personality that teammates flock toward.

“She’s something else,” said Sophie Castillo, a Buffs attacker from 2016-19. “She’s definitely one of the best players I’ve ever seen, but things along the lines of Skittles in her pocket and what she eats the night before or even an hour before a game don’t seem to matter to her. If there’s dessert at the pregame meal, she’s eating the dessert. She’s not outspoken. She’s kind of quiet. But when you get her going, she’s got this goofy but confident vibe to her.”

“She’s not outspoken. She’s kind of quiet. But when you get her going, she’s got this goofy but confident vibe to her.” — Sophie Castillo

Comfortable in her own skin, Lisella embraces her quirky side. She said her teammates last year called her “grandma,” and now she’s been “upgraded to great-grandma status” as a sixth-year athlete.

“It’s interesting because I do feel older, in a sense,” Lisella said. “We’re all teammates, but I do feel older. I’m almost 24.” Born Dec. 12, 1996, Lisella is the same age — to the day — as Buffs assistant Nicole Levy, the former Syracuse attacker.

Lisella redshirted as a sophomore in 2017 so she could develop and claim the starter’s job in 2018. She committed to staying for a fifth year when that decision was made. A sixth year was never in the cards and delays her career plans for another few months, but it was a no-brainer to come back given the abrupt end of the 2020 season.

“When she chose to come back for a fifth year, she had a lot of purpose behind that, with a lot of things she wanted to do and accomplish with this team,” Whidden said. “To get a sixth year, there was zero hesitation.”

Lisella finished her degree in speech pathology and audiology, and now she’s taking core-specific classes in psychology while also picking up a business minor. She said she could one day work in a school as a speech pathologist, but she has another passion that few outside her circle know about.

As a high school senior, Lisella was signed by the Donna Baldwin Agency in Denver as a runway model. She’s taken runway classes and has done photoshoots here and there to begin building her portfolio, but her full focus in college has been on athletics.

“My motto is that I’ve always been an athlete first,” she said. “The industry sometimes doesn’t get the best look, so I’ve never been one to be all in on that.”

And due to NCAA compliance issues, Lisella said she hasn’t been able to take jobs she’s been offered because of rules regarding the use of name, image and likeness.

“It’s another side of me that people kind of know, but not really,” she said. “To be honest, in a sense, I don’t necessarily like being in the spotlight. I’m actually more of a quiet individual, but at the same time, I do like dressing up. It helps me stretch myself and get out of my comfort zone.

“Confidence is key. If I could draw the connection between goalie and modeling, as a goalie, I can be confident in practice, but it’s how you show up and perform in games. The more game time I got, I became more confident. With modeling, I really need to give it a fair shot, and I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to do so.”

Teammates know to expect the unexpected with Lisella, but learning about her modelling aspirations even came as a shock.

“Of course she’s beautiful, but I would never have known that she was a model when I first met her,” Castillo said. “She’s got Skittles in her pockets. She’s always in sweatpants. But she’s got this whole other side to her where she’s dressing up and modeling. Julia’s full of surprises.”

Part of why Lisella is so comfortable with herself is from the experiences that have shaped her. On Jan. 13, 2018, Colorado teammate Julia Sarcona died tragically in a single-car accident on Colorado Highway 119 west of Boulder. Lisella and her classmates keep Sarcona’s legacy alive by teaching younger teammates about her.

“Every year, we go to the tree she passed away at and we read a poem and piece that she wrote,” Lisella said. “We just tell stories about her and reflect on the many great memories we’ve had of her. It’s important to our entire program and the senior classes that have graduated before us that we continue to honor her memory. Julia’s legacy will always be a part of the CU lacrosse program.”


To honor former teammate Julia Sarcona, who died tragically in a single-car accident in 2018, CU players wear these warmup shirts.

Lisella, who grew up in Littleton, Colo., also went to Columbine High School, where 12 students and one teacher were murdered in a shooting on April 20, 1999. Lisella was young at the time but lived just one mile away from the school.

“I don’t really remember that day, but I remember our neighbors running down the street telling everyone to bring the kids in,” she said. “I come from a neighborhood with a lot of police officers, and one of our family friends was in the first S.W.A.T. team in the building. It really hit home. We really have a sense of family at that high school, and that was instilled in me.”

These experiences forced Lisella to learn to appreciate each day and to be genuine with those around her. Whidden said that her players are able to “connect with Julia on a different level.” Perhaps that’s her inviting persona. Maybe it’s her willingness to provide constructive criticism. It could be all of the above.

“I was a captain with her one year, and she definitely wasn’t the most vocal, but I think she knows what to say and when to say it to people,” Castillo said.

It’s that leadership that will be so valuable to Colorado as it looks to make a run for the top spot in the Pac-12. Instead of leaving to take shots in front of the camera, she’ll be back in the cage stopping shots in 2021.

“I love this program and team too much for it to end that way [in 2020],” Lisella said. “I didn’t want to live with the regret of having a sixth year and not taking it.”