BARRE — Living the dream.
That’s how Quabbin Regional senior Julia Hamel feels these days, having signed a commitment letter last month to attend Worcester State University, where the 18-year-old will enroll as an early childhood education major and become a member of the Lancers’ women’s basketball program.
“Worcester State has actually been my dream school, my No. 1 school since I was in the sixth grade,” Hamel said during a phone interview recently. “It’s always been where I wanted to go. But, it also helped that the basketball program is amazing and the school’s early childhood education major is considered one of the top programs of its kind in New England.”
Hamel, a senior captain for the Panthers this season, averaged 8.2 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists per game while helping to lead Quabbin to an 11-1 record and the Pod 6 championship. After starting 1-1, the Panthers won their final 11 games. Quabbin, the top seed, knocked off Leominster, the No. 3 seed, 47-40, in the title game.
Hamel acknowledged sixth grade was a little early to pick where she wanted to go to college since she was still three years away from starting high school.
“I played on an AAU basketball team at the time and after our games we would go to Worcester State and watch their games. I literally grew up watching their games,” Hamel said. “My brother-in-law (Barron Hiltz) is friends with the assistant coach (Matt Stevenson) so I was able, through the years, to talk to him about the program. I’ve known about Worcester State longer than I’ve known about any other college.”
Hamel said she is beyond excited to have the opportunity to play for Worcester State head coach Karen Tessmer, who’s been head coach of the Lancers for 28 years. Hamel said she participated in a Zoom call with Tessmer during the recruiting process.
“It was obvious to me during our conversation that she is as focused on developing the character of her players and finding out who they are as people as she is concerned with any basketball skills they bring to the team. That’s my favorite part of her coaching style,” Hamel said. “She also makes sure that her basketball team is a family rather than just a team. That was a big thing for me when I decided I wanted to play basketball in college. I’m very excited I’m going to be a part of this program.”
Evan Barringer, who was Hamel’s head coach this year at Quabbin, said if someone looks at Hamel and sees just a basketball player or an athlete, they are missing the bigger picture.
“Julia is everything you could ever ask for in, not just a player, but a person, too,” Barringer said. “I could have never handled this pandemic as a senior the way she and Kacey McCreadie, my other senior on the team this year, handled it.
“By the end of the season Julia had developed a really good relationship with our freshmen, Meg Doyle and Riley Bassett,” Barringer continued. “I’d walk in the gym at the beginning of practice, or during a break I would look out on the court, and there’s Julia, explaining the game to them and teaching them moves. It was really a cool thing to see. That’s what’s so special about her. Great basketball players come and go, but more than being a great basketball player is the fact she is a great person. She is just the best.”
Hamel said she and Barringer connected, especially on a basketball level, right from the very start.
“I only had (Barringer) for my senior year but he is easily the best coach I’ve ever had. He’s had such an impact on my life even though I haven’t been around him for very long,” Hamel said. “We got along from the day he brought us in told us he was going to be our coach. We see the game the same way. The relationship flows well.”
Playing basketball in college wasn’t as much a no-brainer as it might seem for Hamel because she was also a standout girls’ soccer player for the Panthers, starting for coach Jamie Cook since she was a freshman and serving as one of the team captains this season.
“Growing up I definitely thought I would play soccer in college,” Hamel admitted. “I started playing soccer when I was very young. I played on a lot of club teams and by the time I got to middle school I felt burned out from soccer because that’s all I did every day.
“In middle school I started to play basketball and from that point basketball has been my No. 1 sport and I just played soccer on the side,” Hamel continued. “I still like soccer and I wanted to finish it out through high school, but ever since middle school basketball has been my No. 1 sport.”
This revelation came as no surprise to Cook.
“I’ve known that soccer was not her top sport since she was a freshman,” Cook said. “Did I know she was going to play basketball in college and not soccer? Yes. Could she play soccer in college? Yes, without a doubt. She could be a Division 3 soccer player no problem. Honestly, I think she could swing playing both if that was an option for her at Worcester State.
“Since I’ve known Julia, basketball has been her No. 1 sport. I knew that playing basketball in college was the route she wanted to take,” Cook said. “In middle school she played club soccer and she played AAU basketball and I think it might have gotten to be too much for her. So, she decided to step back from club soccer, which I think if she continued playing, she would have been a star soccer player on the club circuit. But, it just wasn’t her thing; she loved playing basketball.”
Make no mistake, however, Hamel — who plans to teach either kindergarten of first grade — chose Worcester State for its early childhood education program as much, if not more, than she did its basketball program.
“I’ve always loved being around children but I didn’t really think about teaching children until after my sister had her son,” Hamel said. “Being around children and watching them grow is special. Kids at that age get to learn a new thing every single day. It’s amazing watching them grow. The first day I walked into the kindergarten class at my internship at Hubbardston Center School I could just see how happy the kids were to be there. Watching them figure out how to do basic things is an experience you just can’t get anywhere else.”
Cook believes Hamel will be an amazing teacher.
“Julia worked at my summer soccer camp for three years (there was no camp last year because of COVID). Each year I had her work with the younger age group and she excelled with them,” Cook said. “She was so good at having them enjoy soccer, so good at showing them how to have fun learning to play the game.
“When you see Julia with kids or you take a picture of Julia out on the soccer field or with a group of her friends on the sidelines, you get to see her natural smile and it just lights everything up,” Cook said. “I think the little kids gravitate toward that. They always had so much fun having her as their coach. I think she is going to be a great elementary school teacher for sure.”
Barringer said UMass-Boston and Anna Maria also recruited Hamel for her basketball skills.
“I was definitely interested in UMass-Boston; I liked the fact that it was only 10 minutes from downtown Boston. But UMass-Boston did not have my major and that was a huge factor in my decision not to go there,” Hamel said. “As for Anna Maria, I was already set on Worcester State by the time I was in contact with the Anna Maria coaches.
“Plus, I wanted to go to a bigger school that was small at the same time,” Hamel continued. “I was worried that Anna Maria would be too small for me. In the end, Worcester State checked all the boxes.”