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New Canaan’s Ozimek, UConn lacrosse look to bright future

Stamford Advocate logo Stamford Advocate 6/30/2020 By Dave Stewart

Julia Ozimek is quick to point out that her family bleeds the Husky Blue of the University of Connecticut.

So when Ozimek and the Huskies women’s lacrosse team kicked off the 2020 season by winning five of their first seven games this spring, there was plenty for the family to celebrate.

Then, the success stopped abruptly when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the college sports season.

Instead of worrying about what might have been, however, Ozimek, who just completed her sophomore year at UConn, and her teammates are hoping to carry the positive vibes into the future of the program.

“We had a complete culture change in the program this year,” Ozimek said. “Our seniors did a great job of leadership and getting us to work together in the fall to create this chemistry on and off the field. When we had our first game in February, we were ready to go. We got on a good roll, a good start, and we were able to get those five wins at the beginning of the season.”

There’s plenty to look forward to in terms of the numbers. There were just five seniors on UConn’s roster of 31 players, and two of those seniors, captains Grace Beshlian and Alyssa Conklin, will return next spring, according to the Huskies website. With the season cut short, the NCAA is allowing schools to provide an extra year of eligibility to spring athletes.

UConn’s 5-2 record had already bested its 3-14 mark from 2019. Having the season cut short will likely add to the Huskies’ drive for success.

“Going into next year, now we have this chip on our shoulders where we just want to get after it,” Ozimek said. “We had our season cut short and we want to make the most of it next year. We are a young team, so we’re looking good.”

For Ozimek, the transition from New Canaan lacrosse, which traditionally ranks at, or near the top, of the Connecticut high school poll, to the college game has been a fast one.

A defender, Ozimek has played in all 24 games the past two seasons, and was impressive enough as a freshman to earn a starting job in her first campaign.

“Coming in as a freshman, obviously you’re a little nervous and you have to adjust to the atmosphere, the team and the school,” Ozimek said. “But I’ve been taught since high school with coach (Kristin) Woods to just work hard. That’s all you can do.

“So I came in, worked my butt off and got a starting position, which was so awesome.”

A disrupter on defense since her high school days, Ozimek led the Huskies with 14 caused turnovers in seven games, and was second on the team with 23 draw controls.

Ozimek is also a player who knows how to win.

During her four years at New Canaan, the Rams were a combined 70-19 with three state championships.

In the Class L playoffs of Ozimek’s senior year, New Canaan knocked off top-seeded Darien, 12-11, in the semifinals, snapping the Wave’s 107-game winning streak against in-state opponents. The Rams went on to win the state championship with a resounding 19-7 victory over Ridgefield in the final.

Ozimek, Karlie Bucci and Braden Dial were captains on that 2018 squad, and all three are now on college teams, with Bucci at Vanderbilt and Dial at Virginia.

As a UConn freshman, Ozimek and the Huskies faced Bucci and the Commodores in Nashville, Tenn., with Vandy coming out on top, 22-15.

“We definitely stay in touch,” Ozimek said of her former Ram teammates. “We played Karlie at Vanderbilt last year and that was so much fun. We have pictures of us on the field together, playing against each other, which was great.

“Those New Canaan roots and New Canaan pride don’t go away. I’m so grateful to have grown up in that community and be on that team as well. It made me the person I am today.”

As far as the future goes, Ozimek has two more seasons to keep the Huskies rolling, and for the time being, she’s making sure she stays ready for when the lacrosse team finally gets back on the field.

“I’m working on my own to keep my game as strong as I can: Conditioning, getting on the wall, footwork and all of that good stuff. I’ll be ready.

“We’re going to look very good next year, too.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports

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