CHAPEL HILL – The UNC women’s lacrosse team returned to town in triumph on Monday after winning its first-ever NCAA title with a dramatic triple-overtime victory over Maryland.
WCHL’s Aaron Keck caught up with head coach Jenny Levy on Tuesday.
AARON KECK: First of all, congratulations. This is a generic question–but what are you feeling right now?
JENNY LEVY: We–you know, it’s been a great journey this season, and to cap it off with winning a national title for our program–my players (have been) just outrageous this past weekend. I will always remember how tough and relentless and fearless and resilient they were–and to grab the first national championship for our program, it just–as a coach, I sat back and I was just in complete awe. And then we rewatched the game (Monday) night as a staff–and there were so many moments that I missed, but–it’s a great feeling. It’s rewarding to finally bring home a championship to Chapel Hill. It’s something we’ve worked for for a long time and have been very diligent in our quest–so I feel good. I feel good.
AK: It was such a dramatic game this weekend against Maryland, back and forth–you had a three-goal lead, they had a two-goal lead, multiple overtimes–what was the first thing that ran through your mind when you saw that winning goal go through the net?
JL: I couldn’t–I was like, “Finally!” <laughing> There were so many opportunities for Maryland to win the game, and there were so many opportunities for us to win…there were three different times I felt like, for sure, the shot was going in…and then when Maryland had that breakaway on kind of a crazy call by the official, I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this game is going to end on this play, them getting a complete layup going downfield”–and then my freshman goalie made an unbelievable save, and just saved the moment–and then the moment turned even better on the back end of it, and it was just–it was exhilarating.
AK: It’s such a game of millimeters, lacrosse is, but you took on Maryland a couple times already this year and Maryland came away with the victory then–(but) on Sunday you emerged victorious. Was there a difference in strategy this time around?
JL: I do believe the game could have gone either way, and we’d have been having a different conversation today–but I do think (our) players, they just refused to give up, and their determination and their togetherness was outrageous. Maryland was undefeated, they had the player of the year in every position, offense, defense and midfield…we were the underdogs in all stretches of the imagination. But…if you matched us up player-for-player, I don’t think we’re that far behind, obviously. My starting midfield group was Kara Cannizzaro leading the way, Emily Garrity and Brittney Coppa–those guys are just as elite as the group that Maryland has, and our offense matches up really well against their defense. And then our defense just played so well…we really dominated the semifinal against Northwestern, 11-4, and I just thought the momentum and the confidence that was built during that game was critical for us going into the championship.
AK: It made the win all that much sweeter.
AK: You got home Monday from Philadelphia. What was the reception like when you arrived at Finley Field?
JL: It was great. We actually went to Boshamer Stadium first–
AK: Boshamer, yes, that’s right.
JL: –and Coach Fox was getting ready to find out (about NCAA selection for UNC baseball), so there was a good crowd in the stands there waiting for the selection show, so we got to say hi to them–and then we hopped back on the bus and went down to Finley. We run a little peewee clinic during the fall and the spring called “Young Guns,” and a lot of the little guys that we’ve been coaching throughout the fall and the spring were there, and a lot of the administration and different people, support staff that work with our program were there…It’s great. It’s good to know that people are paying attention to women’s lacrosse and what our program has done. We’re a non-revenue (sport), we’re not always in the limelight, but we do a heck of a job in the classroom and in the community–and then the icing on top is bringing home a championship.
AK: What does this mean–not just for your team, but for women’s lacrosse and lacrosse in general, especially in the Triangle? Duke just came home with the men’s (NCAA) championship, so this is a really great time for lacrosse in the Triangle.
JL: It is, and congratulations to the Duke men’s program. Lacrosse is growing, it’s the fastest-growing sport in the nation right now–and Carolina is still trying to make up ground to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast areas that have had lacrosse for so long. I have three kids, I have 11- and 9-year-old boys, and they’ve been competing on these select teams the past couple summers–and slowly we’re starting to bridge the gap between the North Carolina kids and what the kids are doing up north. We’re actually competing better with them–we just need more grassroots programs, we need more high-school programs, we need more coaches and officials in this area–but this area loves sports, and it’s a national game for North Carolina, and I would love to see the growth of the game from both of these programs bringing home championships this year.
AK: So what’s next for you, and what’s next for the team? What are you going to do this summer to come down from this high–and what’s next for you guys next year?
JL: We have to start working. We just met with the team, actually, to wrap up a couple business things and get everybody on the same page before a lot of people start heading home…(and) we reminded the team of what a journey we’ve had–it wasn’t all easy, we had some really ugly games, we trained hard…and we want our kids to take a little bit of down time physically, because they’ve been on the grind for a while, since last September…but you take a week or two, just to let your body recover, but we’re going to get right back to work. The grind to start working for (title) number two starts this summer–not only for our players, but also for the coaching staff as well. We’re certainly going to enjoy this for a little bit, but we get right back into coaching camp and recruiting, and the next two months we’re on the road a ton. So we don’t have much down time right now, but we will enjoy it–every little stop we take, we’ll meet up with friends that we can share the victory with.
AK: You’ve already spoken about the team once, but say a few words about this team and how special they are.
JL: This group was great. We had four seniors, so it wasn’t a heavy senior-dominated team…but they are really hardworking, they are really passionate about the game of lacrosse. I thought they did an exceptional job of leading our program this year. And when the captains and the seniors buy in and get everybody else on board, it makes the job for the coaches that much more fun and easy. And we just fought, all of us, we just fought all season long to improve and get better…we’d say, “Is everybody in?” And everybody was like, “Yep, we got it”…just a real hard-hat, workmanship-type attitude, and it showed, I thought, in that overtime game, because it took a lot of toughness to get through it.
AK: And a lot of those players are going to be back next year.
JL: Yes. Which is great for us.