The Princeton track and field team knew it had recruited a special talent even before sophomore Julia Ratcliffe stepped onto its campus in September 2012. The native of Hamilton, New Zealand had placed fourth just two months before at the IAAF World Junior Championships in the hammer throw. Earlier in the year, she had set the New Zealand U-19 record for the women’s hammer throw, just as she had set the U-18 record in 2011.
But the Kiwi had bigger plans on her mind as she moved her game to North America. Ratcliffe’s freshman year included jaw-dropping results during the winter and spring seasons. In her collegiate debut, she set a school record in the weight throw that had been held by Thanithia Billings ’11. She would go on to place second at winter Heps in the weight throw. The spring saw Ratcliffe transition from the weight throw to her specialty in the hammer throw, where she quickly did damage for the Tigers. Her toss of 68.80 meters at the Larris Ellis Invitational would be the first of many times that she would break her own school and Ivy League record. She would earn her first Heps gold two weeks later, as her throw of 66.51 m would outdistance Brown’s Lacey Craker’s by over five meters and would set a meet record. Her success ultimately culminated with an 11th place finish at the NCAA Championships, good enough for second-team All-America honors.
While it is hard to imagine an athlete with so much success making such great jumps one year later, Ratcliffe made it happen, thus making her Female Athlete of the Year 2013-14.
Ratcliffe started her sophomore campaign off in winning fashion, as she won the weight throw at the New Year’s Invitational on Dec. 7 at Jadwin Gymasium. Two months later, her mark of 19.78 m at the HYP meet in New Haven, Conn. would set her own school record in the weight throw. Her spring season started off just as hot as she left it in 2013, as her hammer throw mark of 62.97 m at the Disney Invitational exceeded the rest of the field by over 40 feet. But her season was just beginning: she would climb to the top of the NCAA on the season with a hammer throw mark of 66.31 m the following weekend at the Monmouth Invitational. Ratcliffe would set a further NCAA-leading mark the following weekend, but it would be April 12 when she would burst the headlines. At the quad-meet Princeton hosted with Monmouth, St. John’s and Vermont, she threw a New Zealand national record, an Ivy League record, a Princeton school record and a personal record with a mark of 69.60 m. This performance led her to be named the National Athlete of the Week by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. She would break all of these records again the following weekend, as she broke the 70-meter mark for the first time at the Larry Ellis Invitational.
Ratcliffe won her second Heps gold in the hammer throw at Yale on May 10, as her throw of 67.75 m gave her a new Heps record. Her performance earned her the award for the meet’s Most Outstanding Female Field Performer.
The sophomore phenomenon has received notice far and wide, most notably as of late from the USTFCCCA. The USTFCCCA announced on May 8 that Ratcliffe had been placed on the Bowerman Watch List as “also receiving votes.” The Bowerman, introduced in 2009, is awarded annually by the USTFCCCA to the nation’s most outstanding male and female collegiate track & field athletes in the nation. Not only has she been recognized within the United States, but also in the international track and field community: Ratcliffe has been invited to compete in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games this summer in late July.
Despite her overwhelming successes this year, Ratcliffe maintains that the distances and records have not been her focus at all.
“This year I scrapped all expectations and decided to focus on the process of throwing well rather than the result,” the sophomore standout said. “So throwing as well as I have has been great fun and a lot less mentally stressful than last year. Both short-term and long-term goals have been good technique, consistency in competition and mental strength. I’ve been doing pretty well in those three areas I think, but there’s always room for improvement.”
And while the overwhelming amount of success can get to an athlete’s head, Ratcliffe has her eyes completely on the future as the coming weeks hold much for her.
“I have regionals in two weeks and with any luck NCAA nationals in early June,” Ratcliffe said. “On June 14 I fly out to London to meet my Dad and start my UK-based lead-up, moving through Cardiff for a New Zealand training camp before I compete at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in late July. I will probably have some competitions in the UK, but nothing is set yet.”
In addition, Ratcliffe’s humility is striking, as she attributes a great deal of her success to her supporters.
“Thanks for the award; it means a lot to be recognized by my peers,” Ratcliffe said. “Shout out to the track team, especially my fellow throwers [senior] Chelsea [Cioffi] and [sophomore] Brielle [Rowe], and Coach [Brian] Mondschein, and my dad for all the help with training!”