As a sophomore, North Carolina midfielder Maggie Bill sat at the dais surrounded by several tearful senior teammates after last spring’s 9-8 loss to Maryland in the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse championship game. She held her head high and told reporters, “It’s good to learn from our mistakes.”
Not that Bill, the former multi-sport star from Huntington who played at St. Anthony’s, had much to learn. She is one of those rare athletes of either gender to play in two major sports at the highest Division I level. She is an All-American lacrosse midfielder for the Tar Heels, ranked No. 2 in the preseason in most polls, and a highly regarded defender on North Carolina’s perennially powerful soccer team.
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But between the practice time and travel of the two sports, plus a full academic schedule, Bill learned that maybe as a junior she needed to lighten her load . . . just a bit. “I’m hoping for a national championship by concentrating on one sport,” Bill told the university’s athletic department website in the fall.
So Bill elected to redshirt in soccer last fall. She has two years of eligibility left in both sports and will remain at North Carolina for one extra semester to play her last soccer season in the fall of 2017. “It’s a great undertaking for someone wanting to do both,” North Carolina lacrosse coach Jenny Levy said. “She’s gotten on the field in soccer as a freshman and sophomore and she wants that challenge.”
She’s done a lot more than merely “get on the field” in lacrosse. She is one of the team’s top players, coming off a season in which she had 32 goals and 49 points and was particularly outstanding in the NCAA Tournament. She started every game during her first two seasons of lacrosse.
“We’ve seen her improve every season,” Levy said. “She’s got to come in and mix with new personalities and a new dynamic. She does a nice job fitting back in. She’s extremely hard-working and a very unselfish player.”
Even though Bill was a redshirt last fall, she practiced daily with the soccer team, so this winter again has meant a transition to a new sport. Bill handles that as easily as she eludes defenders in the open field. “Coming in every spring after not playing lacrosse in the fall is no problem for her,” Levy said. “She likes the diversity of different sports.”
And her teammates like her. There are no jibes about her missing North Carolina’s high-intensity fall lacrosse season. After all, Bill wasn’t sitting around. Practice was intense on the soccer field as UNC went 15-4-1 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The goals are a lot loftier for the lacrosse team, which helps explain why her teammates welcome her back.
“Every January she comes in and because of her athleticism, she can close the gap on what she missed in the fall,” Levy said. “They’re excited to get her back on the field. The team loves it when she’s back in the fold. They know Maggie just likes being busy.”
Bill told the school newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, that she is determined to be a two-sport athlete for her entire college career. She said the sports “feed off each other” and added, “One of the biggest things is knowing I’m not like everybody else. I am playing two D-I sports and that’s something I chose to do and want to do.”
The loss to Maryland last May, a game in which she had three goals and two assists, is powerful motivation for Bill, a candidate for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the nation’s top player.
“Maggie and the entire team are motivated to find the next level with this team. A lot of our players are good; our goal is to make them great,” said Levy, who indicated that Bill is approaching greatness.
“It’s hard to miss how well she played for us in the Final Four. You can be a great athlete or you can impact the play. Her goal is to impact the play,” Levy said. “We can’t dwell on what happened last year or predict what will happen this year. That’s our culture here. Maggie buys into that.”
For Bill, that’s a year-round purchase.