Athlete Spotlight – Julianna Lavner

Gianna LaMorges, Featured Writer

Playing a Division 1 sport, or as many people say, “Going D1”, is a dream shared by all athletes. If you are selected to be a part of a Division 1 team, it means you were the best of the best in your area—not just a talented athlete but an exceptional one. And while continuing an athletic career at the Division 2 or 3 level is still an enormous accomplishment, everyone always hopes to go D1. It’s a pride thing, an ego thing, a “Hey look mom, I did it!” thing.

Julianna Lavner, a senior here at Wayne Valley, did just that: she made the commitment to play Division 1 volleyball at Marist University. The second she stepped foot onto the volleyball court at Wayne Valley, she rose to the top of her team and proved that she is one of the best volleyball players in the entire state. Even more impressive is that Lavner did not begin to play volleyball until middle school, when she tried the sport for the first time. “I actually started playing in seventh grade when I went to a clinic, but I started my first year of club volleyball in eighth grade,” she says. “I really only started because I needed a new sport after lacrosse didn’t work out for me.” Lavner stated that she really fell in love with volleyball after she won her first ever game.

Lavner is certainly lucky to have stumbled upon her love for volleyball, as the sport clearly favors her in return. She became a starter on the extremely competitive Wayne Valley varsity volleyball team here at Wayne Valley as a freshman, the only Girls Volleyball athlete in her class to do so. Since then, Lavner has been extremely successful, winning multiple awards after each season. After her freshman debut, she received her varsity letter but she was still on the hunt for more. After a successful sophomore year, she received a First Team All-Conference award and a First Team All-County award… but again, she wasn’t satisfied. After a standout junior season, she received a First Team All-County award, First Team All-Conference award, First Team All-North-Jersey award, and Second Team All-State award. She was also nominated for the 2019 North Jersey Player of the Year. Talk about a killer season. Still, Lavner’s senior season is ahead—she’s not done yet. 

Something many student athletes must realize is that they are students before they are athletes. And while volleyball initially pulled Lavner to Marist, she is also extremely excited to be a student there. “I chose Marist specifically because they have a super good journalism program that offers internships with newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.” Lavner knows that even after volleyball is over, she will be well-prepared for her future career path. She remarks, “Right off the bat, I have a path set for me in something I really want to get into and I am super excited.” Lavner is looking forward to having four more years of competitive volleyball while also getting an incredible education.

As fun and exciting as it may seem, any athlete looking to play at the collegiate level can attest that the process of getting recruited and choosing a school is anything but easy. Lavner explained that the process for her was “actually very stressful because of COVID-19. I had to miss about four or five major showcase tournaments where coaches could have watched me play in a live game. I continued to send out emails and videos but the NCAA had a recruiting dead period so it was extremely difficult to contact some of the college coaches. I was really just left with the schools who had already talked with me.” The process is already a stressful one so adding the effects of COVID-19 and its restrictions made it even more difficult for Lavner and every other student athlete looking to play a college sport.

While being an amazing athlete and a well-rounded student, Lavner also has a huge heart and wants to help the young student athletes who, like her, want to play their favorite sport for four more years after high school. Her advice to young athletes is “to just enjoy the game. It goes by so much quicker than you think and before you know it, you’re signing your commitment papers to play in college and then you’re off.” Regarding the recruiting process, she said, “Do your research when you become interested in a school. You don’t want to fall in love with a sports program if the school itself isn’t a fit.”

All in all, Lavner is an extraordinary athlete who is excited to continue her athletic and academic career at Marist University, studying journalism and playing Division 1 volleyball. Although it was a long and difficult process, in the end, she is thrilled that she gets to play volleyball, the sport that has given her forever friends and unforgettable memories, for four more years.