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Saturday October 16th

Maggie Bill pursues two sports at UNC

<p>Maggie Bill faces off against the University of Florida during the NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament Sunday.</p>
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Maggie Bill faces off against the University of Florida during the NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament Sunday.

For her, there’s nothing unusual about her life as a dual-sport athlete at North Carolina and therefore no reason to dwell on herself and her accomplishments. And she sees no reason to make a decision anytime soon.

Because when it comes to lacrosse and soccer, Bill can’t choose one over the other. She simply devotes herself to whichever sport is in season. It’s what she has always done.

As a dual-sport athlete at UNC, the sophomore is a starter on both the women’s lacrosse and soccer teams. The feat is one many marvel at, but for her, it comes naturally.

A natural talent

Bill stood on the sidelines at 5 years of age. Nervous and hesitant, she turned to her parents before the start of her first soccer game.

“She basically told her father and I, ‘I don’t think I want to do this,’” said Katie Bill, Maggie’s mother. “And we both said, ‘Well, you signed up for it. Try it out. If you don’t like it, you finish out the season ... We’ll do something else.’”

But the timid 5 year old quickly found her niche. Maggie ran circles around her opponents — single-handedly outscoring the other team 12-0.

Growing up in Long Island, N.Y., Maggie was playing varsity sports by seventh grade and was all-everything in lacrosse, soccer and basketball by eighth grade.

Constantly pursuing the stiffest competition, she transferred from a public school to St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, N.Y., after seeing it was ranked by Sports Illustrated as one of the top 150 athletic programs in the country.

Despite playing for six total teams at a time until she stopped playing high school basketball her junior year, Maggie was never fazed by her hectic schedule. She bounced back and forth between games, practices and school, never complaining.

“She’s the type of kid that the more you put on her plate, the better she does overall,” Katie said. “If she has homework to do but two practices and she’s got a full day of school, she makes it happen.”

With her parents’ support, Maggie didn’t feel the need to pick a sport.

“They’ve never really pushed me to decide one way or another,” she said. “They just told me to do what I love.”

Special pressure

Corinne Lomangino coached Maggie in high school lacrosse for four years, and she never stopped wishing the lacrosse star would dedicate more time to the sport.

“She couldn’t pick a favorite sport; she loved them all so much,” Lomangino said. “Maggie was so athletic — such a phenom — that God bless her, she was one person that didn’t have to (choose) and could still be the best in all three.”

Coaches, teammates and athletic directors would try to persuade Maggie to specialize in one sport, but she could never choose.

Leaving practices for one sport early to go to another would frustrate her coaches. But Maggie made her intentions clear. She wasn’t going to stop loving each sport equally.

“A lot of coaches have said, ‘You’d be a lot better off if you chose one and specialized in a sport. You could really excel to the next level.’ But I disagree,” she said. “I think that each sport kind of feeds off the other.”

A defining choice

In May 2010, Maggie tore her ACL while playing soccer. But she didn’t take the injury as a major blow — instead, she used the nearly four months away from the field to begin the recruiting process. Her older brother, Charlie, compiled a highlight reel that immediately caught the eye of lacrosse coaches — including UNC women’s lacrosse coach Jenny Levy.

Several collegiate lacrosse programs hoped to land the talented sophomore. But Maggie wasn’t ready to hang up her soccer cleats entirely.

It ultimately came down to a decision between North Carolina and Northwestern. Both historic programs offered Maggie the chance to play lacrosse and soccer, but at UNC, she would follow other dual-sport athletes like Marion Jones and Julius Peppers.

Maggie committed to the Tar Heels early in her sophomore year. She enrolled at UNC in the fall of 2013 on a lacrosse scholarship and as a walk-on on the women’s soccer team, becoming the fourth player to split time between Coach Anson Dorrance’s and Levy’s squads.

“Any student-athlete who is really serious about coming into Carolina and playing lacrosse and soccer, I like that they want that challenge,” Levy said. “We’re not interested in anyone who doesn’t want to make this choice. People who want to make this choice tells us a lot about them — what type of competitor they are.”

Silent but deadly

Sophomore attacker Sydney Holman played club lacrosse against Maggie several times before they came to UNC and always walked away under the same impression.

“I always knew her as this quiet reckoning force on the field,” Holman said. “She was an animal on the field when we played her, but she would never say anything.”

As one of the top women’s lacrosse recruits in the country, Maggie started her UNC career on the soccer pitch, anxious and unsure of what to expect. The introverted 18-year-old needed time to adjust to her new life.

Without a strict schedule that included classes and practices planned for her, Maggie initially struggled with the extra freedom she had. Instead of playing for six different teams all at once throughout the year like she had done for much of her life, Maggie was devoting all of her time to one team at a time.

But you’d never know it affected her.

“I’ve never heard her once complain about how it’s been too much or anything like that, when I know a lot of one-sport athletes complain about all of the running or all of the work they have to do,” Holman said. “A huge quality Maggie has is her humbleness, and I think that goes a long way in just earning respect.”

The reverence Maggie’s earned through her commitment has only been amplified by her performance on both teams.

The defender started 10 games for the women’s soccer team in the fall of 2014. And following a freshman lacrosse season in which Maggie was named to the Inside Lacrosse 2014 All-Rookie Team, the UNC midfielder is second on the team in points with 41 and is an integral member of a squad taking on Penn State on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.

But she knows to continue this success in both sports requires making sacrifices.

“One of the biggest things is knowing I’m not like everybody else,” Maggie said. “I am playing two DI sports, and that’s something I chose to do and want to do.”

‘A great example’

People constantly tell Maggie they can’t believe she’s able to play two college sports, especially for two championship-caliber programs. But to her, the praise means nothing.

The pressure she puts on herself is immense — and the greatest challenge she faces. But it’s the perfectionist in her that makes her who she is.

“She’s just a competitor. She shows up every day to be the best she can be,” Levy said. “She’s willing to do the extra work to be great. She is a team player. All of the things you can define as a competitor, she is.”

Dual-sport athletes like Maggie are rare in collegiate athletics nowadays. But Maggie’s success shows that specialization isn’t the only way to go.

“Maggie is a great example for a lot of young girls who love more than one sport,” said Darcy McFarlane, a midfielder on the UNC women’s soccer team. “She shows it can be done.”

A potential career in professional soccer awaits her, as does the honor to represent the United States in the Federation of International Lacrosse World Cup in 2017.

But the thought of having to ultimately choose one sport over the other never crosses Maggie’s mind.

“I’m still not accepting it, and I don’t think I will have to,” she said. “I think when it comes, I’ll figure it out. As long as I can keep playing and competing, it doesn’t really matter what I’m doing. But I think I’ll always play both sports, even if they conflict.

“I’ll figure it out like I always have.”

sports@dailytarheel.com



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