Her story makes history: Julianne Sitch leads U. of Chicago men’s soccer team to title

Last Saturday in Salem, Virginia, the Maroons beat Williams College 2-0 for the title, and Sitch became the first female coach to lead a men’s soccer team to an NCAA national championship.

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Julianne Sitch’s professional playing experience gave her instant credibility with the Maroons.

Darin Yrigoyen/University of Chicago Athletics

When Julianne Sitch began playing soccer as a little girl, she had to be on an all-boys team. Her role models were male because women’s sports were still lagging well behind in prominence. But then the United States won the 1999 Women’s World Cup, which gave Sitch and other girls famous female athletes to look up to.

Now Sitch has made her own history.

Sitch coached the University of Chicago men’s soccer team to the NCAA Division III championship. Last Saturday in Salem, Virginia, the Maroons beat Williams College 2-0 for the title, and Sitch became the first female coach to lead a men’s soccer team to an NCAA national championship.

“Just having these opportunities and people continuing to hire females in these roles and have this is huge for young women to have something to dream and aspire to,” Sitch said. “As a young girl, if you don’t see it, you might not believe it, you might not be able to dream it. And now I think women have something to aspire to.

“As great as this is for young women, I still think this is great for young boys and young men to have something to aspire to. They can see themselves in a lot of different roles, and it gives them an opportunity to dream big and go out and do the things they want to do, as well.”

An Oswego native who starred at DePaul, Sitch played professionally and had three stints with the Red Stars. Sitch then went into coaching, serving as an assistant on the U. of Chicago women’s team in 2015-17 and 2019. She also spent 2018-19 as an assistant coach on the UIC women’s team.

In 2020, Sitch became an assistant coach with the Red Stars, where she stayed until April, when she was named the men’s coach at Chicago. Sitch was recommended for the job and encouraged to pursue it by former Maroons coach Pat Flinn, who left for Drake in January after guiding the team to the 2021 national semifinals.

If Sitch’s players had any apprehension about their incoming coach, it didn’t last long.

“At first I [thought], ‘OK, this is

new,’ ” said junior midfielder -Robbie Pino, who scored the first goal in the national final and was named the tournament’s most outstanding offensive player. “But then we found out about [Sitch’s] background and how she played pro and she had so much -experience. Really, once we hit the spring practice sessions, we [thought], yeah, she’s a really good coach. And then throughout the season, she was fantastic.”

When Sitch returned to Hyde Park to succeed Flinn, she already knew about the program and the type of student-athletes the school has. There wasn’t any worry about getting the team to buy into her coaching, and Sitch’s focus was just to be herself.

“I had zero pushback from the players, from the university, from the athletic department, and that’s a huge tribute to the culture that’s been built at UChicago,” Sitch said. “These student-athletes are nothing but remarkable, and they’re just incredible humans and from Day 1 they have embraced me, and that I’m very grateful for.”

Pino’s words reflect that sentiment.

“I don’t think there’s really any difference in terms of having a male or female coach,” Pino said. “It’s just whether they’re a good coach or not.”

The Maroons went 22-0-1 and didn’t allow a goal in the tournament semifinal or final. Wearing suits but also their championship hats, the team was feted Monday by the university and school president Paul Alivisatos. Sitch’s name popped up all over sports media and social networks in the days after the title.

Seeing the players relish their success and be toasted by the university made a mark on Sitch.

“They’re proud of each other,” she said. “The coolest thing was just to watch them celebrate together.”

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