An exclusive interview with UChicago coach Julianne Sitch
The GIST: When it comes to leveling the collegiate playing
field pitch, few have done more than Julianne Sitch, who became the first woman to lead a men’s team to an NCAA championship when her University of Chicago (UChicago) Maroons took the DIII title last December. HYFR.
- Sitch’s career is a masterclass in perseverance and the importance of team culture — read on for our exclusive interview with the glass ceiling–smasher.
As a player, Sitch was on the front lines of the 2000s’ women’s pro soccer chaos. While kicking it at DePaul, she saw the WUSA fold in 2003. She played pro internationally before joining the WPS’s 2009 inaugural season, competing there until it also went under in 2013. Finally, Sitch became one of the OG NWSL players from the league’s rookie 2013 season until her 2015 retirement.
- With “all of those leagues and the changes and the hurdles and obstacles that my generation of players had to go through to play professionally,” she says, “it’s great to now know that the NWSL…has been stable, it’s growing…. It’s so incredible to see.”
- After hanging up her boots, Sitch served as an assistant women’s coach at UChicago, the University of Illinois-Chicago, in the NWSL, and with U.S. national youth teams. All prepped her for her 2022 history-making move.
Sitch was asked to consider the HC gig for UChicago’s men’s squad, to which she thought, “I don’t know, I’ve never coached men before…but it’d be so cool.” So she consulted NYU men’s soccer HC Kim Wyant, with whom she would later make history. After talking to Wyant, Sitch “had the mindset of, why not?”
- Less than eight months later, she led UChicago to a record-breaking season and the program’s first NCAA ’ship, inking an instant success story that she attributes to their meticulously crafted team culture.
- “I think the teams need to have ownership in [building a culture],” Sitch says. “You bring everyone in, and everyone has a part and feels a part of something. And that’s when you feel valued…you’re willing to go a little bit extra.” Now that’s leadership.
Today, Sitch is back on the culture-building grind — this time, as a DI HC leading Denver’s women. Her current goals (other than mastering Mountain Time)? “Seeing [what] can add value to the program. I think the team right now is in a really good place culture-wise…. I’m really excited [to work] within the culture that’s already here and continue to build on that.”
- “[We’re] finding an identity….I want to make sure that we have that environment where people feel they can be themselves and…continue to grow.” Ultimately, she says, it’s about fostering “a love for the game and having fun playing.”
- Her advice for other women who dream of breaking coaching’s unspoken gender barrier? “Go for it…just believe in going after your dreams and, if there’s something that you really want to do, go for it…[don’t let] anyone tell you [that] you can’t do something.” Amen.