A Commitment to the Carolina Family: Jenny Levy’s Leadership

Through David Lohse
Deputy Sports Information Director, retired

In the long and distinguished history of women’s sports at the University of North Carolina, only two of the 15 collegiate teams have known just one head coach – Anson Dorrance in football and Jenny Levy in lacrosse.

Their careers have been similar: both have served as head coaches of their respective US national teams, both have won multiple NCAA and ACC championships, and both are considered the best in their fields.

“Jenny’s greatest asset as a coach is the fact that she has her own personal grounding in her beliefs, but she’s a constant innovator,” she said Kara Cannizzarothe Honda Award winner in Levy’s first national title team in 2013. “She invites change. She is never satisfied with what she has done as a coach in the past.”

Levy is only the fourth person to play and coach on a women’s national championship lacrosse team. Her overall record as the main mentor of the Tar Heels was exemplary. Carolina has won six ACC Tournament Championships, including the last five in a row (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021). Her team had 21 NCAA quarterfinal appearances, 12 NCAA semifinal appearances, four NCAA championship game appearances, and NCAA titles in 2013 and 2016.

Seven women’s sports began at the varsity level in Carolina in 1971-72—but both women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse came later. Football was added in 1979, and it was another 15 years before Carolina added women’s lacrosse in 1994. In October of that year, Jenny (Slingluff) Levy was appointed Tar Heels’ women’s lacrosse coach by then-athlete director John Swofford in what is now considered a brilliant appointment.

Levy played in Virginia, graduating in 1992 and leading the Cavaliers to the 1991 NCAA Championship. She then spent nearly two years as an assistant lacrosse and field hockey coach in Georgetown before coming to Carolina.

At the recommendation of former UNC men’s lacrosse coach Willie Scroggs, Levy secured an interview despite knowing that among the four finalists, she was clearly an outsider for the job.

“I flew in for the interview and it was my first time at Chapel Hill,” Levy said. “I came with a written plan and a vision of what I think the program could look like. I flew in on a Tuesday night, interviewed me all day on a Wednesday, and on Thursday, John Swofford called me at my home in DC and offered me the job. I accepted it on the spot. I didn’t need time to think about it.”

Arriving at Chapel Hill in November 1994, Levy spent the next year and a half doing the legwork needed to prepare the team for their first game in March 1996, a 10-4 win over Colgate at Chapel Hill. To date, Levy has had 381 wins, making her the third most successful coach in NCAA Division I history in terms of overall wins.

Levy’s first team consisted of UNC club team players through the junior and senior years, a UNC field hockey player, two Carolina football players, a trio of transfers, and five women she recruited to the high school class in 1995. She put together a staff that worked practically for nothing and in her first practices her players ran. And ran. And ran a little more and then maybe did some embroidery exercises.

The running paid off as Carolina’s second and third teams advanced to the Final Four.

In 1997, UNC upset Virginia in overtime in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals. The 1998 squad was in the nation’s top three throughout the season but was stopped by six-time national champions Maryland en route to their seventh title.

A few seasons later, in 2002, Carolina won her first ACC tournament championship and made the Final Four again. After a few quiet years, Levy hired a position that would change the course of their program.

“I hired in 2005 Phil Barnes as my executive assistant, and that helped anchor my employees,” Levy said. “Together we restructured practices and evaluated everything in the program.”

Since then, Levy and Barnes have built an incredible program.

Carolina has appeared in nine of the last 12 NCAA Final Fours. The last five ACC tournaments are also among the tar heels — no lost ACC tournament game since 2015, a 15-match winning streak heading into the 2022 tournament in April, the longest in ACC history.

Levy eventually clinched her first national title in 2013, followed by another title in 2016.

Levy’s players are also dedicated to her program, and she’s also drawn inspiration from other tar heel trainers.

“Roy Williams,” Levy said, “was a great help, gave me advice and support.”

Cannizzaro said Levy’s program is benefiting from the consistent culture she’s built.

“You can take any player that was part of the program and put them in another era or another decade and it would fit right in with those players,” she said. “They would seem like your new best friends.”

As a result of this enduring culture, Levy was selected to coach the US women’s national team in November 2017 and was recently selected into the 2021 National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

“Jenny is thriving in so many areas and that has led to her appointment as national team coach,” said Cannizzaro. “Jenny’s commitment to her own family and the Carolina family of players is unquestionable. She has achieved positions in our sport that few others have achieved. She is incredibly highly respected by her peers and has shown she can lead the US team at an international level and will not sacrifice any of her commitment to UNC.”

Levy continues to lead her program with a culture of excellence built over 27 years of consistency and dedication to the Carolina Family.

Looking back on her journey, she has no regrets about coming to Chapel Hill as the architect of one of the most successful programs in women’s lacrosse history.

“I remember my former teammates teasing me that I would never have a chance at this job,” Levy said. “But history has proved them wrong.”

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