Inbounds with Mac McDonald - May 25
May 25, 2004
University of Virginia head women’s lacrosse coach Julie Myers stood in a hanger at Ft. Campbell on the Tennessee-Kentucky border clutching the hand of her three -year old daughter, Kelsey. It was February 12th of this year, and her oldest brother Jim, who is 39, was returning from Iraq after one year on duty as a Black Hawk Helicopter pilot. The Plzak family numbers seven children and they have all remained close for as long as Julie can remember. It was important to be there waiting for her older brother who was on the other side of the world fighting for our country.
Lacrosse practice would have to go on without her.
Three months later the Plzak family had cause for another celebration. The head coach and her team were bringing home a national championship trophy, a prize Coach Myers had waited nine years to achieve as the leader of her own program.
“I’m so at peace now,” Myers confessed, following a day of rest and interviews. “I’m so happy for my team, Virginia, and the program. However there is no comparison to watching soldiers stepping down off of a plane, many of whom who have never seen their kids. It puts things into perspective.”
Myers had climbed the national championship mountain before, winning a title as a player in 1991 and as an assistant coach in ’93. However the Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania native had been turned away from hoisting an NCAA piece of hardware on four other occasions as a head coach. After the 10-4 drubbing of Princeton in the 2004 national championship game last Sunday, the dream had turned into reality.
“I really didn’t feel the pressure of having to win a title,” Myers admitted. “The (UVA) administration has been great to me, they have never said no to anything I have asked for. Everyone from Craig (Littlepage, Virginia’s Director of Athletics) on down has been so connected to the program.
Myers was a Jane Miller hire. Miller, the department’s Senior Associate Director of Athletics, was the field hockey and lacrosse coach for the Cavaliers for seven years prior to Julie taking over in 1995 and coached the lacrosse team for 12 years posting a 145-44 record. When Miller knew she could not juggle coaching and administrative duties at the same time, she realized a coach was needed, and her former player was the perfect fit.
“Jane set me up for success and I had a ton of support. I was so lucky because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was in California for a year after graduation playing golf in the morning and teaching skiing in the afternoon. Ed (her husband) had family out there. But it came time for me to consider a masters program in teaching and I had boiled down my choices to the University of San Francisco and Virginia for my degree. Since I had played under Jane, she called and asked me to consider being a graduate assistant coach. That was one day before San Francisco called and told me I was accepted.”
“It was a great framework to work under. I learned about kids and all the little things that go with coaching,” Myers said.
In October 1995, Myers was named the head coach and placed in an office in University Hall that had no heat, no windows, no air conditioning and the men’s toilet flushed into her office.
“I still remember that awful orange shag carpeting,” Myers said with a laugh. “It was bad.”
Heading up the program taught Myers a lot about herself and her abilities. There was no pressure to win and she was given a one-year interim by the administration to get the ball rolling. Her first team went 7-7, but the next year, 1996, Myers placed the Wahoos in the NCAA Final Four.
“Since I had so much fun in school I tried to make sure I related to the kids. My rules are simple. Be good, live clean, and be honest. Kids are who they are. I want my teams to have a say…things like practice and travel. Our doors are always open and we have terrific communication.”
And with everything else on Myers’ plate there is time for family and kids. Julie and Ed are the parents of Kelsey, age three, and Timothy, born last July. Using a full time baby sitter and relying on players now and then, Myers manages to fulfill her motherhood role as well as recruit, set up off season workouts, practice, and coach. Plus, she calls home five times a week to keep up with her mom and youngest brother, Chris, who has Down syndrome.
“My little brother made me realize at a young age you just can’t do everything you want to do. It takes a great support system from a lot of people and I have that.”
So as the satellite television tuned to ESPN inside the Cavaliers’ team bus, periodically flashing Virginia’s win over Princeton, the team cheered each time as it motored down I-95, the 495 Beltway, I-66 and 29 South. Coach Myers laughed at the Tiger alumni who during the title chase taunted the team and her goalie Andrea Pfeiffer with “You’re a safety school” and “You’ll be working for me one day”. She reflected on her team, a bunch of kids that had the perfect combination of “goofy” and a “business like” approach. Myers thought of her oldest brother, who might return to Iraq and her mom and dad, Judy and Lou, who had beaten cancer in their lives and told her in high school she might want to pick up a book once in a while.
And Coach Myers thought about next year. The possibilities. The pressure.
She thought about life and luck.
And that being at peace with one’s self is a terrific feeling.