After competing in the prestigious USA Field Hockey National Championships a few weeks ago, Julia Ward of Belfast took her game to an even higher level.

Ward, 15, a Belfast Area High School student, was chosen to be a part of the Junior Olympics program that took place in Virginia Beach, Va. Monday through Saturday, Aug. 2-7. There, her U16 team, the Green team, placed third in the tournament, winning a bronze medal.

“It was a really great experience and all the girls were nice,” Ward said. “It was an amazing time out there. “

The Green team had the highest record in the tournament, 5-1, but finished third because of the event’s format.

The Futures program is organized by USA Field Hockey to strengthen field hockey in the United States. The program also helps develop the best athletes so the “future” Olympians can be identified.

The Junior Olympics is geared toward the U16 players and only eight teams of 15 players are chosen out of a group of 4,500 Futures players. In the competition, Ward was also one of only 16 goalies who played.

Ward said her favorite part of the week was her first game, against the Yellow team.

“It was just a lot of fun just going out there and starting playing,” she said. It was the first time we started playing as a team and we had a lot of fun out there and it was a good game.”

Ward’s team won 4-3.

Ward added that before the event she did not know her teammates, which was hard at first. However, that changed. The team soon bonded through dinners and outside activities.

“We got to know each other and we listened to each other,” she said. “My favorite part was we all were good and we worked together as a team very well.”

Ward has been a participant in the Futures program for about eight years and has attended numerous camps, showcases and championships at many levels.

Ward, a goalie, played with BAHS coach Allen Holmes at the YMCA and was on the 2007 and 2008 Troy Howard Middle School Lions’ Busline League title teams. She has been playing field hockey year-round since the seventh grade. She also plays field hockey at BAHS under coach Holmes.

To prepare for the Junior Olympics, Ward played around three times a week, once with her school team, once with her club team, then, whenever she could. She also tried to work out every day.

Ward also put a lot of mental preparation into the games as well.

“I really thought about it mentally and I thought I really need to prepare myself for this because I knew it was going to be a harder level of play and I knew to mentally prepare myself and I went out to do my best,” she said.

In the end, the youngster was happy.

“I think it went really well. I’ve come a long way since last year. I’ve gotten a lot better, I feel,” she said. “So I think it went really well. I’ve worked hard this year and did my best.”

Village NetMedia Sports Reporter Frederick Freudenberger can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at fritz@villagesoup.com.