A commitment to the Carolina family: Jenny Levy’s leadership

Jenny Levy is only the fourth person to both play on and coach a national championship women's lacrosse team. Her overall record as the Tar Heels' head mentor has been exemplary, and on Sunday the team will play for its third national title.

Jenny Levy coaching.
(Photo by Jeffrey Camarati)

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

The tracks of their careers have been similar: both have served as head coaches of their respective U.S. National Teams, both have won multiple NCAA and ACC championships and both are considered to be at the top of their game.

“Jenny’s biggest asset as a coach is the fact she relies on her own personal foundation in her beliefs, but she is a constant innovator,” said Kara Cannizzaro, the Honda Award winner on Levy’s first national title team in 2013. “She invites change. She never merely settles for what she has done as a coach in the past.”

Levy is only the fourth person to both play on and coach a national championship women’s lacrosse team. Her overall record as the Tar Heels’ head mentor has been exemplary. Carolina has won seven ACC Tournament championships, including the last six in a row (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022). Her team has had 22 appearances in the NCAA quarterfinals, 13 appearances in the NCAA semifinals, four appearances in the NCAA championship game and NCAA titles in 2013 and 2016.

The team will be competing in the Final Four on Friday.

Seven women’s sports began at the varsity level at Carolina in 1971-72—but both women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse would be added later. Soccer 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 named the Tar Heels’ women’s lacrosse coach by then-athletic director, John Swofford, in what is now thought of as a brilliant hire.

Levy played at 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 at Georgetown before coming to Carolina.

With a recommendation from former Carolina men’s lacrosse coach Willie Scroggs, Levy secured an interview although she understood she was clearly an underdog for the job among the four finalists.

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

When Levy arrived in Chapel Hill in November 1994, she spent the next year and a half doing all the legwork necessary to get the team ready to play its first game in March 1996, a 10-4 win over Colgate in Chapel Hill. Since that day, Levy has notched 381 victories, making her the third most successful coach in NCAA Division I history in total wins.

Levy’s first team included Carolina club team players in their junior and senior years, a UNC-Chapel Hill field hockey player, two Carolina soccer players, a trio of transfers and five women she had recruited in the high school Class of 1995. She put together a staff that virtually worked for free and in her first practices, her players ran. And ran. And ran some more, and then, maybe, did stickwork drills

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

In 1997, Carolina upset Virginia in overtime in the quarterfinals to get to the semifinals. The 1998 squad was ranked in the top three in the nation throughout the season but was stopped by the six-time national champion, Maryland, en route to its seventh title.

A few seasons later, in 2002, Carolina claimed its first ACC Tournament championship and would reach the Final Four again. After a few quiet years, Levy made a hire that would change the course of her program.

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

Since that time, Levy and Barnes have constructed an incredible program.

Carolina has been to 10 of the last 12 NCAA Final Fours. The last six ACC Tournaments also belong to the Tar Heels — not losing an ACC Tournament game since 2015, a 15-match winning streak heading into the 2022 tournament in April, the longest in ACC history.

Levy finally clinched her first national title in 2013, following up with another title in 2016.

Levy’s players are also devoted to her program, and she has found inspiration from other Tar Heel coaches, too.

“Roy Williams,” Levy said, “was a great help to me, giving advice and being supportive.”

Cannizzaro said Levy’s program benefits from the consistent culture she has built.

“You can take any player who has been a part of the program and switch them into another era or decade and they would fit right in with those players,” she said. “They would seem like your new best friends.”

As a result of this consistent culture, Levy was chosen as the coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team in November 2017 and was recently tapped for the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2021.

“Jenny thrives in so many areas and that led to her appointment as the national team coach,” Cannizzaro said.  “Jenny’s commitment to her own family and to the Carolina Family of players is unquestioned. She has gone to places in our sport few others have achieved. She is incredibly well respected by her peers and has shown she can lead the U.S. Team on an international level and not sacrifice any of her commitment to UNC.”

Levy continues to lead her program with a culture of excellence, one she has built over 27 years of consistency and commitment to the Carolina Family.

When 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.”

This year, Carolina Athletics is celebrating 50 years of women’s athletics with a series of stories and social media content celebrating our many champions, legends and leaders who have shaped the landscape of women’s sports in Chapel Hill.
Learn more about the 50 years of Carolina women’s athletics