PHOTO BY BEN LUDEMAN

Charlotte North surrounded by fans at a U.S. exhibition event in Texas.

U.S. Women's National Team Focused on More Than a Medal


The bubbly had barely dried when Jenny Levy visited USA Lacrosse headquarters to interview for the position as head coach of the U.S. women’s national team in September 2017.

Less than two months earlier, the U.S. capped a historic 26-day tour of Europe with a win over Canada in the inaugural lacrosse competition in The World Games — a multi-sport Olympic-style event in Wroclaw, Poland, that came after the quadrennial women’s lacrosse world championship in Guildford, England. The Americans came home with two gold medals, but to little fanfare.

The muted reception reminded Levy of the story of the 1991 U.S. women’s soccer team, which after winning the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in China returned stateside to a mostly empty JFK Airport in New York. A few observers gave the players roses. No one else knew who they were.

Eight years later, the 1999 U.S. women’s soccer team — the 99ers, as they became known — repeated the feat in front of 90,195 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. An estimated 40 million TV viewers worldwide watched Brandi Chastain rip off her jersey after scoring the game-winning penalty kick against her adversary Sue Wen. The U.S. defeated China in a 5-4 shootout and elevated all women’s sports, not just soccer, with its global appeal and marketability.

Levy draws a distinct parallel between the 99ers and the 18 women who will compete for the U.S. in the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship June 29-July 9 in Towson, Maryland. She’s kind of an insider. Her husband, Dan, represents women’s soccer icons Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan as the head of Olympics and women’s sports for Wasserman Media Group. Anson Dorrance, now Levy’s colleague at the University of North Carolina, coached the U.S. soccer team from 1986-94.

“The 1999 U.S. women’s soccer team should be our inspiration,” Levy wrote in her application. “They pioneered the soccer movement into what it is today.”

Weeks later, she presented her vision to USA Lacrosse leadership in a one-page infographic. Beneath a pyramid that peaked with Olympic rings — the IOC and world were watching, she emphasized — were five pillars:

  • Creating resources.

  • Player selection processes.

  • Professional player experiences.

  • Outreach.

  • Win and have fun.

As a player, Levy trained with the U.S. team in the early 1990s. A Baltimore native who starred at Virginia, she recalled rolling up to Germantown Academy in Philadelphia, bunking with friends nearby, sleeping on the floor and eating Wawa for lunch. Every player paid her own way and participated in fundraising for the team.

“I couldn’t believe we were still doing that,” Levy said of when years later she noticed her North Carolina players soliciting donations and selling t-shirts as part of their U.S. team obligations. “We did that when I played.”

Levy still refers to that infographic on occasion. The women’s lacrosse landscape has changed drastically since she got the job. With the advent of the shot clock and a pro league, social media platforms cultivated by the game’s top players like Taylor Cummings and Kylie Ohlmiller, unprecedented TV exposure and the emergence of a generational talent in Charlotte North, the movement has already begun.

“If you want to use any word for me, it’s ambitious. And fearless,” Levy said. “Not because I think I’m a badass, but because I’m not afraid to fail. I’m not afraid to push the needle. I know it doesn’t always make people happy. But I do think in the 2020s, we need to be at a different place than we were in the 1990s.”

Levy pressed USA Lacrosse for more training and engagement opportunities and a fully funded program. She supported the creation of the National Team Development Program and brought on a sports psychologist to work with the team this year. Several college players in the U.S. pipeline now have name, image and likeness endorsements.

“Ambition has served us well,” Levy said. “We are at a different place.”


“I’m not afraid to fail. I’m not afraid to push the needle.”

— Jenny Levy


AS SOON AS THE HORN SOUNDED by the bench-side speakers at Field 2 of the Harold Patterson Sports Complex in Dallas, nearly 2,000 fans lined up around the perimeter of the grass field for autographs, high-fives and selfies with the U.S. team. Marie McCool borrowed a sign that said “Happy Birthday Kayla Treanor” in Syracuse orange and blue and held it high as the rest of the team lifted a reluctant Treanor in the air and serenaded the 28-year-old.

“They know I don’t really like that stuff,” Treanor joked. “They put me on the spot.”

Eager fans encircled North, the Texas native and Boston College superstar who last year set the NCAA single-season goals record. She's lacrosse’s Hamm. Her free-position shots have turned a once-anticlimactic formality into must-see stuff, the decibel level rising with each crank of her stick as she whips the crowd into a frenzy. “She’s a human highlight reel,” Levy said.

Or as Sam Apuzzo, the U.S. attacker and North’s coach as BC’s offensive coordinator, put it after North scored six goals in a Blue-White exhibition at USA Lacrosse last summer: “She’s a born killer.”

In a 30-minute span, Kenzie Kent briefly lost her phone (Treanor had it), a group of fans found a still-packaged Colgate toothbrush, U.S. players signed thousands of autographs and the throngs of high school lacrosse players competing in a recruiting tournament left with memories, photos and aspirations beyond just playing in college.

“When I was going around meeting the girls and signing autographs, I was asking them where they were from,” McCool said. “I heard a lot of non-traditional places — I met some girls from St. Louis, California, Minnesota, Colorado, Alabama. It’s awesome that they’re all in the same place and able watch players they look up to.”

For Levy, outreach (bullet four) meant taking the U.S. team to the kids, lifting the veil on their favorite players and fostering fangirls.

“Girls get excited differently,” said Levy, who has 20- and 18-year-old sons and a 15-year-old daughter. “There’s a different level of engagement than with boys. That’s why the 99ers were able to do what they were able to do.”








KAYLA TREANOR WAS 16 YEARS OLD when the idea of competing for a U.S. team first popped in her head. Her high school coach, Peter Melito, put it there. He persuaded Treanor's family to let her try out for the 2011 U.S. U19 team. She made it — as a two-way right-handed midfielder.

“That under-19 experience for me was so special,” Treanor said of the gold-medal win in Germany. “I remember specifically thinking at that ring ceremony in Maryland, ‘Just enjoy this. It will never happen again.’”

Two years later, Treanor and another contemporary, Cummings, were the talk of the college women’s lacrosse world after sensational freshman seasons at Syracuse and Maryland, respectively. Rebuilding after a world championship win in 2013, then-U.S. coach Ricky Fried immediately made both fixtures in the program.

Treanor was  a lefty attacker and one of the craftiest playmakers in the game by the time she made her U.S. senior team debut in the fall of 2013. Thank you, Gary Gait.

“I still watch her highlight videos,” North said of Treanor. “She was one of the first greats to throw in these moves in women’s lacrosse, these between-the-legs goals and fake behind-the-back passes. She started that revolution.”

Treanor, who set a U.S. record with 43 points in the 2017 world championship in England, said she found her creative inspiration in Syracuse and U.S. teammate Michelle Tumolo, as well as Katrina Dowd, who starred for the gold medal-winning 2013 U.S. team.

Could you imagine the three of them together? Levy could. She invited Dowd back into the player pool. More than 70 players competed in a series of 10 training camps, tryouts and events to help form the 2022 team.

“Our goal was to create a team that was electric to watch play,” Levy said. “To create jaw-dropping moments.”

Dowd and Tumolo have since retired, but the creative one-upmanship with which they played empowered others to follow suit. The current U.S. attack group? A murderer’s row of Treanor, Apuzzo, North, Ohlmiller and Molly Hendrick. Led by the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer in Ohlmiller, the five of them collectively amassed more than 1,900 points in college. No group better personifies Levy’s vision.

“When you think about playmaking and making the people around you better — our will to win and our will to be great teammates — when you put that all together in one unit, it’s kind of scary,” Ohlmiller said. “In a really good way.”




PHOTO BY BEN LUDEMAN

Kayla Treanor leads a super-powered U.S. attack unit.


ABOUT THAT LAST BULLET.

The U.S. is the three-time defending gold medalist and has won 22 straight games in world championship competition (60-6-1 all-time). But the fact remains: No host country has ever won the World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship. That includes U.S. losses to Australia in the 1986 (Swarthmore, Pa.) and 2005 (Annapolis, Md.) finals.

No one’s taking anything for granted. The U.S. team will convene for the first time since the Presidents Cup in November — and since paring down the roster to 18 in February — with training camp June 6-9 at Stony Brook.

Asked to visualize what the scene might look like less than three weeks later at Towson’s Johnny Unitas Stadium, Levy referenced the scene from ESPN’s “The 99ers” when the U.S. women’s soccer team bus pulled up to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, to sidewalks overrun by fans. What a sight it would be to see a sellout June 29 for the world championship opener between the U.S. and Canada. Capacity at Johnny Unitas Stadium is 11,198.

“I’m hoping it’s packed,” Levy said. “As far as our team goes, just feed off that energy. Playing with a freedom and a joy of seeing what the past five years have built to get to that moment." 

Matt Hamilton and Nelson Rice contributed to this story, which appears in the May/June edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum. To purchase tickets to the World Lacrosse Women's World Championship in Towson, Md., head here.


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