aggie Bill scored the last goal of the 2015 season, and it was a stunner.

It also was the last time Bill would set foot on a college lacrosse field for nearly two years.

"> Maggie Bill Returns with Renewed Purpose | USA Lacrosse Magazine


North Carolina's Maggie Bill, an All-American lacrosse midfielder who also plays soccer, redshirted the 2015-16 sports seasons as a mental break.

Maggie Bill Returns with Renewed Purpose


aggie Bill scored the last goal of the 2015 season, and it was a stunner.

It also was the last time Bill would set foot on a college lacrosse field for nearly two years.

A two-sport star for North Carolina in lacrosse and soccer, Bill took a pass from teammate Kelly Devlin just outside the 8-meter line with the Tar Heels trailing Maryland by two with three minutes left. Bill stutter-stepped and coiled back to her right to fake a shot. When Terps defender Nadine Hadnagy didn’t bite, Bill threw a second move, a slashing face-dodge across her body, diving to the left of Hadnagy. Hadnagy had no choice but to lunge as Bill barreled past her.

That’s when Bill threw a third move: With a spring-loaded drop step, she halted and spun back to her right. As Hadnagy lunged at thin air, Bill fired an open shot from just 5 yards out that snapped the net’s top right corner.

“That was one of the most amazing goals, and it was something only she would be able to do,” North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said. “There’s nothing [Bill] can’t do on the field. She’s a crazy athlete, she has great hands, she’s very unselfish with great vision. But when the game is on the line, she knows she is the one who has got to get it done.”


"She was the best scout player in the country." — North Carolina coach Jenny Levy

Time Out

Bill finished the game with three goals and two assists, matching Maryland’s Taylor Cummings in the Tar Heels’ 9-8 loss in the NCAA semifinals in Chester, Pa., and looking like the anchor around which the Tar Heels would reload the next season.

Surprising her coaches, teammates and the rest of the college lacrosse world, however, Bill sat out the 2016 season. Though just a sophomore in 2015, Bill already was four seasons into her NCAA career. Along with starting every game for North Carolina’s lacrosse team since arriving as a freshman, she was a key defender for North Carolina’s dominant soccer team.

Even as she put on a show in the 2015 title game, Bill said, she was mentally exhausted and could feel her performance slipping. She felt less and less in control of her own life and under unrelenting pressure.

“Just going since eighth grade until now, being always in-season takes a toll mentally and physically. I was at a point where I thought, ‘I can be so much better if I can just step back,’” said Bill, who also played basketball and ran track at St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) High School. “I wanted to focus more academically, but it was also, ‘Hey, take a step back mentally. Take a break.’”

As the fall of 2015 approached, Bill decided to redshirt in soccer. Most college athletes play several sports in high school, often at elite levels. But few try to continue in college, where most programs have year-round commitments. There are exceptions. Duke’s Katie Trees and Stanford’s Hannah Farr both played full soccer and lacrosse careers through 2015. North Carolina’s other soccer-lacrosse  standout Katie Brooks played for both teams from 2004 to 2009, redshirting lacrosse in 2008.

Bill originally planed to return for lacrosse. But as spring approached, she decided against it.

“I tried to get back on the field after soccer season, but there was no reason to rush it,” she said. “I don’t think I was ready to jump back into it.”

By deciding to sit out while healthy, Bill said her biggest worry was disappointing her teammates. Not so, insisted Marie McCool, who stepped into Bill’s spot in the North Carolina lineup and turned in an All-American season in 2016. Most of her teammates, McCool said, recognized the pressure from which Bill needed relief.

“There’s a lot of athletes that suffer from depression or being pressured way too much,” McCool said. “That’s across the board for all sports. [Other] students think we have the life. We get cool gear, we have tutors, we got in easier than they did. That’s all they see. They don’t see all the hours we put in on the field and still do our schoolwork. I don’t think they realize all the time and effort we put in.”

And all that was her experience playing just one sport.

“I couldn’t imagine being a two-sport athlete,” McCool said.

“If they had said, ‘Hey, we need you here,’ then 100 percent I would have been on the field,” Bill said. “But they were like, ‘No, this is good for you and we’ll be fine. You’ll just have a different role.’

The Art of Imitation

That role turned out to be challenging McCool and others in practice.

“She was the best scout player in the country last year,” Levy joked. 

Bill often matched up against McCool or Carly Reed, two of the few Tar Heels who could match Bill’s speed. Both made the NCAA All-Tournament Team in North Carolina’s march to its second national championship in four years.

“Maggie has the quickest first step I’ve ever seen,” McCool said. “One thing you do wrong, she’s blowing right by you.”

Levy said Bill pushed McCool to take on bigger assignments, foreshadowing an NCAA championship game encounter with Cummings, the three-time Tewaaraton Award winner whom McCool limited to one goal in the Tar Heels’ 13-7 victory.

“Marie had to figure out how to mark the other team’s best midfielders, and score goals on the opposite end, and she had to do that every day against Billy,” Levy said.

McCool said Bill had an uncanny talent to imitate other players like Cummings, Syracuse’s Kayla Treanor and Notre Dame’s Cortney Fortunato. She also found she could watch her teammates more closely from the sidelines, and was able to offer advice that might have been overlooked. 

“I learned more about the game and how we play together,” Bill said. “I’m a pretty quiet person normally, so watching and telling people what I think, and being able to help was really cool for me.”

“Every time a player isn’t in their normal position, they have to adjust and say, ‘OK, how am I going to contribute to the team? What is my role going to be?’ We saw that with Maggie,” Levy said. “She could have a quiet conversation with somebody and pump them up a little bit. And that was really, really important for a lot of those kids.”

What surprised Bill most, she said, was that as the Tar Heels made a run to the national title, she never felt left out.

“When I made the decision, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what if we win? Not being part of it would be awful,’” she said. “I wanted us to win, but I thought it would be really hard to watch. But I felt the exact opposite. The whole [championship] game, I was so excited. I had never felt that kind of energy.”


Bill says the time off changed her outlook on both sports. She started every game for the Tar Heels' soccer team in the fall.

Time In

Still, by the time tryouts for the U.S. national team arrived in August, Bill was ready to be back. She made the initial roster of 36, but was not among the 25 players named to the World Cup training team in October.

“You definitely appreciate something more when it’s taken away from you,” Bill said. 

Bill started every game for North Carolina’s soccer team in the fall. She said the time off changed her outlook on both sports. Early in the season, the Tar Heels suffered a three-goal loss at eventual NCAA champion USC, an unheard of blowout loss for the perennial national title contenders. In past years, Bill said, a loss like that would have crushed her.

“I’m a very tough critic on myself,” she said. “Now I think I’m a little bit more mentally stable. Two years ago, I would’ve been a lot harder on myself [after USC] and my confidence would have been shot down, but now I take a more constructive critique and realize it’s not the end of the world.”

“She’s got her eye on the prize,” Levy said. “She wants to be the best. And she didn’t think last year she was in a position to be her best. This year coming off soccer, you’re going to see an unbelievable kid.”

This article appears in the January edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.