UNC Women's National Championship

Interview With UNC Women’s Head Coach Jenny levy

Memorial Day weekend in 2016 was one for the history books. For National Championship games, the Maryland Terrapins men and women were both the #1 seeds and favorites to win their respective titles. However, the Tar Heels showed true determination by dispelling any doubts of their prowess and upsetting the Terps on both counts to bring two National Championships back to Chapel Hill, NC.

Soon after the wave of emotions and celebrations calmed down, we had a chance to catch up with Head Coach of the UNC Women’s Lacrosse program, Jenny Levy, to discuss their Championship victory and more. Here is a summary of our discussion with a few powerful quotes from Coach Levy.

 

The Championship Impact

UNC Women's National Championship

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

Looking at the history of the North Carolina women’s lacrosse program, the Tar Heels have made it to the Championship game four times in the past eight years. Two of those appearances resulted in victories under the helm of head coach, Jenny Levy. When asked what the impact of these Championships will have on her program she responded “When you start to see the consistency of success within a program, it validates the processes we use and our core values and who we are as a program.”

The road to the Championship game certainly was not an easy one for the Heels. UNC fought through a tough ACC tournament where they were challenged by the reigning ACC Champs Syracuse, who also made it to the semi-finals in Philadelphia. In addition, the Heels were scheduled to play their crosstown rival, the Duke Blue Devils, a total of three times in three weeks, which, considering the history behind the UNC-Duke rivalry, was quite a taxing feat in itself. Just before their Championship rematch with Maryland, Carolina battled against a determined Penn State team who made them fight for every possession until the final whistle. Coach Levy understood that her team made some mistakes but “that game prepared us well mentally for the challenge on Sunday versus Maryland.”

The determination her team showed that weekend was unbelievable. A fan watching UNC for the first time that day would have been truly impressed. For Coach Levy, that level of grit was something she had seen all year long. Since the fall ball season, the program was focused on getting better each and every day. “We all knew where we wanted to be in May, but May is not going to happen unless you make January and February work”, Levy says of their nonstop dedication to improving and being the best they can be.

 

The Maryland Rivalry

UNC Women's National Championship

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

When North Carolina and Maryland step on the field to face off against one another, you can sense a high level of intensity that comes with any rivalry match up. This goes for both the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs but especially on the women’s side, where this rivalry has held a lot of weight in recent years. Championship level weight. The Heels met the Terrapins in three of their four Championship appearances in the past eight years. In 2015, Maryland disrupted their title dreams while in 2016 the Heels got redemption. Although Coach Levy doesn’t really look at their 2016 victory as redemption, but rather a serious improvement from their previous performance. “Personally, and our team agrees, I think we lost an opportunity to win a Championship last year and it was our doing.” Levy explains that as a team they were unable to respond to Maryland’s second half adjustments and could not match their emotional intensity.

“We understood that we left something on the field last year.” This was a key motivation for the Tar Heels in 2016. It wasn’t that they were seeking revenge, but they wanted to walk off the field knowing they gave it their all. Knowing that they put their absolute best foot forward, no matter the result, they would see it as an accomplishment. Hoisting a Championship Trophy at the end of it is always a plus.

 

Developing A Winning Program

UNC Women's National Championship

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

Watching lacrosse, the men’s and women’s games show vast differences between the two. But for Coach Levy, the men’s program has played a fundamental role in the development of her own program. When Levy started Carolina’s Women’s Lacrosse team in 1994, she explained that she made a lot of decisions for her program based on the men’s team from the 80’s and 90’s. The men’s teams back then were an unstoppable force winning 4 National Titles in a span of 11 years from 81 to 91. From recruiting to practice and more, that team helped create the blueprint for the UNC women’s program. For Coach Levy, the success of the men’s program gave her own program instant credibility.

Through the years Levy has witnessed the ups and downs of the men’s team while building her own. Now working alongside Joe Breschi, the men’s head coach, she has been truly impressed with his fortitude while dealing with the pressure to win and criticism when they don’t. Coach Levy pointed out a distinct moment in their history, the 1993 Championship game between the Tar Heel men and the Syracuse Orange where the Orange claimed the title after a nail-biting 13-12 win. Ever since that game, the Carolina alumni, including her own husband who was honored as a member the ’91 National Championship team this Memorial Day weekend, have been waiting for their team to reclaim what was theirs. To top it all off, the men’s and women’s teams were able to pull off a feat that hadn’t been done since 1994 and that is win both National Championship titles. After winning her own trophy on Sunday, then watching the men win theirs on Monday Coach Levy described that moment as a “Disney World ending, you couldn’t have written a better script.”

 

Emotionally Charged Leadership

UNC Women's National Championship

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

Through the 2016 season the Tar Heels picked up 20 wins, a record for the program. They have also won 2 National Championships since 2013. As Coach Levy stated before, these titles have brought legitimacy to her program, but how does their head coach handle the pressure of leading a winning program? For her, the pressure never goes away. But it’s not the pressure you would expect from the media, from alumni and from the University that worries her. It’s the pressure she puts on herself. “The biggest pressure is helping our student athletes reach their ultimate goal. That is helping them achieve success on the field, success in the classroom and helping them develop as human beings.” For Coach Levy and her staff, it’s not all about winning National Championships, it’s about connecting with their players and pushing them to become the best they can be on and off the field.

It has been well documented that Coach Levy relies on her emotional connections with her players to make coaching decisions. Establishing strong relationships with their players, the UNC coaching staff is able to read their players and understand what they can handle and what motivates them. That means not just her as the head coach, but every member of her staff putting in the effort to create meaningful connections with the players. Levy notes that her 2013 Championship team was vastly different from her 2016 team emotionally as it took very different methods to motivate each squad to perform on the highest level. When Coach Levy walked in the locker room at half time during the 2016 Championship game with a 6-4 lead, the feeling was not complacency, it was “this game is ours to get but it’s not going to be given to us so we need to fight and play even better.” This had been the mentality all season long, that they have to fight every second for every possession. So why change the message? Coach Levy and her staff realized that their players understood what they needed to do. They just need to empower them emotionally to believe they could achieve their ultimate goal.

 

Lasting Advice

UNC Women's National Championship

Photo Credit: UNC Athletics

Back in 1994, Jenny Levy was a new coach working to pave her own path and build a program. Today, she is among the top Women’s Lacrosse coaches in history with 9 NCAA semifinal appearances and 2 National Championships. Looking back at those years Levy noted “I have failed a lot. Failure is humbling and it makes you want to work harder.” For coaches everywhere, it is an understatement to say that it takes a lot of work to build a winning program. For Levy, it has been about more than just winning, it has been about becoming a servant leader to her athletes with the goal of pushing them to become the best they can be. If you’re in coaching just to win, it will become harder to win.

When asked generally to offer some advice for coaches out there, Levy stated “You have to be you, don’t try to be someone else.” That means establishing your core values as a coach and as a program then sticking to them. Staying consistent with your expectations of your coaching staff and your players will ultimately lead to a more successful coaching experience. “Establish what is important to you as a coach – what you’re willing to accept and not willing to accept” then stick to it. In all of Coach Levy’s years of experience she has found that success is not an accident. In her words, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” Truly successful student athletes show the same level of determination in the classroom, the office and in their social lives as they do on the field. Commit to your core values as a coach and as a human being and success will follow.

 

A big thanks to Coach Jenny Levy for her time and an even bigger congratulations to the 2016 National Championship Tar Heels!