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Hildebrand having a ball on soccer field

Wheaton resident Julia Hildebrand performs a power clean during a workout at Wheaton Barbell and Fitness Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.
Erica Wheaton resident Julia Hildebrand performs a power clean during a workout at Wheaton Barbell and Fitness Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.

WHEATON – When she was younger, Julia Hildebrand participated in a variety of sports.

Now a freshman at Wheaton Warrenville South high school, that lengthy list has been whittled down to one.

Getting a start at the club level at the age of 8, Hildebrand is playing soccer year-round and enjoying every second of it.

“My parents put me in soccer at age three or four,” said Hildebrand, who also tried out volleyball, basketball and track among other sports. “It was a fun thing to try and I’ve stuck with it.”

Now in her first year with the Eclipse Soccer Club after stints with the Chicago Fire Juniors and Synergy in Glen Ellyn, she again finds herself on the last line of defense at center-back.

“Ever since I was 8, I’ve been in the back,” Hildrebrand said. “It’s pretty cool being the last player back. It’s a lot of responsibility, but you also get a lot of action. And the position is really physical.”

In addition to club soccer, Hildebrand also was a member of the Illinois Olympic Development team for the second consecutive year. She attended four training sessions in Schaumburg during the winter and afterwards was invited to compete at a combine in June, where the defender was picked for the Illinois state squad. She later went to the regional camp in Rockford in July but was not selected for the regional pool.

“The overall Olympic Development Program [ODP] is designed to find players for the U.S. Olympic team,” Hildebrand said. “The whole process starts at the state level.

“My first year, I signed up for the opportunities I would get from ODP, I was not expecting to make the state team. But now, I’ve been able to train with new, high-caliber teams and been introduced to new coaching styles. It took me out of my comfort zone and made me a better player.”

This spring, Hildebrand will switch over to high school soccer as a member of the Tigers. She has been going to the Wheaton Warrenville South summer soccer camps for years.

In order to handle the rigors of playing on the back line and sometimes against older girls, Hildebrand began training six months ago at the Wheaton Barbell and Fitness. Owner Jeff Armstrong creates individual workouts for each attendee and the freshman, who heard about the gym from older brother John (a junior at WWS), credits the program for her increase her strength.

“We originally started working on first-step quickness and overall strength and a lot of leg strength,” she said. “We do so many exercises, from kettle balls to pushups to pullups and squats. The increase in strength is really evident.”

Armstrong, who opened his business in 2010, says her hard work is paying off.

“She has grown as far as her strength,” he said. “There is no noticeable change in her size. She didn’t beef up, but she has gotten increasingly stronger. Especially with girls soccer players, we focus on strengthening their legs and knees and focus on getting them as quick and strong as possible.

“For Julia, there is no exercise and no amount of work she won’t do. Sometimes she will give me a look like, are you crazy? And I’ll say, ‘Just do it.’ And then she bears down and gets it done.”

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