A former Maroon assistant wins a title her first year in charge.
In December Julianne Sitch finished her first season as head coach of the men’s soccer program. Before working with the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women’s Soccer League, she was an assistant to longtime UChicago women’s coach Amy Reifert. A star midfielder/forward at DePaul University, Sitch switched to defense during her professional playing career in the United States and abroad.
When the Maroons won the NCAA championship, ending the season 22–0–1, was she expecting the international news coverage that focused on her as a woman coach? “Not at all,” says Sitch. “I am excited, but I wish the media were all for the guys. They’ve been phenomenal. They’ve worked extremely hard. They’ve been in the Final Four several times in the last few years, and I am very, very proud of them.”
Who were the soccer players you admired growing up? Did you have a poster of US National Team star Mia Hamm?
Mia Hamm was always one of my favorites, for the obvious reason of who Mia Hamm was.
I look really strongly at the 1999 World Cup champions and what they’ve done for women in general. For so long, I watched and idolized men’s soccer players, because it was the only thing I could relate to at the time I was growing up—until that 1999 team.
What made you want to come back to UChicago?
I loved my time here on the women’s side. I loved the athletic department. I loved working with the student-athletes—and the type of student-athletes you get here.
[Previous men’s coach] Pat Flinn and I knew each other from when I was an assistant on the women’s side and he was on the men’s side. Knowing him and what he’s done with the program, when he asked if I’d be interested in the opportunity, I said, “Oh, yeah!”
Amy Reifert had a lot of great things to say about you. She said she was thrilled when she found out you were interested in the job.
Amy’s been a huge part of the women’s program for 30-plus years, right? She’s created this environment where the players have absolutely, truly loved their time here. Being able to grow a true community and culture in athletics at a university is really cool.
Amy’s been a big influence throughout my coaching career.
Was there a moment where you felt like, OK, this season has been a success regardless of how it ends?
A lot of moments. All along in the season, after conference play, being undefeated in nonconference games, then conference season and playoffs. The way the team culture continued to grow every day, the relationships among the staff, and watching the players develop this unbelievable brotherhood—that is success.
Apparently there were a lot of soccer team alumni at the championship game?
Yeah. Without them, this moment doesn’t happen. They paved the way for us to be in a situation to win a championship.
Were you expecting the amount of media attention you got?
Not at all. I am excited, but I wish the media was for all the guys. They’ve been phenomenal. They deserve all the attention in the world. They’ve worked extremely hard. They’ve been in the Final Four several times in the last few years, and I am very, very proud of them.
You got asked a lot about being a woman coaching men.
A lot of people ask, and to me, I’m just coaching athletes. I hope this is not a headline in the future. I hope the headline is “Men’s soccer wins national championship.”
Like all UChicago students, your players are also academically ambitious. Have you learned anything interesting from them?
Absolutely. They inspire me.
If I’m being very honest and transparent, I went to college because I wanted to play soccer and I wanted to be a professional athlete. Now I look back on it, I’m like, man, this is so cool: all the things they get to study and do, and play soccer, and study abroad.