Former Syracuse Players Nicole Levy, Halle Majorana Get Second Wind In AU


Nicole Levy was a highlight machine during Athletes Unlimited's first season.

To the casual observer, the 5-foot-2 Nicole Levy looks unassuming. On the lacrosse field, she knows she’s not the fastest or strongest. When she graduated from Syracuse in 2019, she didn’t have any IWLCA All-American honors to write home about, and she didn’t get drafted into the WPLL, a now-defunct professional league.

So, when she got an invite to play in Athletes Unlimited’s first lacrosse season in 2021, she arrived on a mission.

“My whole career, my whole motto is, ‘Prove people wrong,’” Levy said.

The league uses a unique format. Players — not teams — earn points for individual and team play, such as for goals, assists, saves and wins. Teams rotate each week, and captains select players. It’s the players who are in charge.

But when Levy says she came with something to prove, she doesn’t mean she came to win the top individual honor (which went to Taylor Cummings anyway).

“I wasn’t worried about the points,” Levy said. “I wasn’t worried about being the best. I was just worried about myself, having fun and using my IQ to help people step up more.”

Halle Majorana, another former Syracuse attacker who played one year with Levy, did get drafted professionally. The one-time Manhasset (N.Y.) High School star played in the UWLX for the Long Island Sound and won a league championship. But that league folded, too, limiting her options for continuing her playing career.

Neither Majorana nor Levy are U.S. women’s national team members. Majorana wasn’t sure what to expect from Athletes Unlimited, but she jumped at the chance and has since been blown away.

“It’s player-first and very organized,” Majorana said. “They want to see us compete and give us tools not just for lacrosse but off the field as well. We really feel like professional athletes.”

Real professional athletes who play games on television. This season, Athletes Unlimited will air on ESPN as part of a multi-year deal. But just getting the exposure wasn’t the endgame for Levy.

“They give you that opportunity, but it’s all about what you do with it and whether you take it and go,” Levy said. “I was having fun and enjoying every little moment of it. The rest just came naturally.”

And the fans loved watching Levy. She put on a weekly show, with highlight-reel goals and all.

“That’s the kind of stuff you do in the backyard,” Levy said. “You do it when you are having fun and aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”

Levy finished 15th and Majorana 48th out of 58 athletes. Both had to work to get into the groove. Levy said she took a week or two to gain confidence, while Majorana needed to adjust to the faster pace of the game and a shot clock she didn’t play with in college.

“In college, I was probably more of a dodger,” Majorana said. “I’m a finisher now and focusing on off-ball and creating opportunities and space for my teammates.”

This year, teams will play three times in four days instead of three days in a row. The league moved games from Friday to Thursday. There will once again be games on Saturday and Sunday. Majorana says this tweak will help players recover. But ultimately, both Levy and Majorana say team chemistry wins out over skill.

“Every week, every team is going to be stacked and loaded with an unlimited amount of talent, so what is going to separate people is going to be those connections and culture you build on and off the field,” Levy said.

Golf outings, team meals and just hanging out at the hotel are a few ways players bonded and built chemistry last year. It sounds like a challenge — you could be teammates one week and on opposite sides the next. But Levy says when the goggles came off, people naturally dropped their guards.

“We compete on the field and aren’t afraid to run each other over for a ground ball, but off the field, we are close,” Levy said.

Athletes Unlimited allows players to meet and become friends with people they only knew from opposing sidelines, television and NCAA stat logs. Levy and Majorana got to play with players they grew up watching, including Katrina Dowd and Michelle Tumolo.

“For me to be able to step on the field with them was incredible,” Levy said. “I was playing with my idols.”

Majorana also relished the opportunity to play alongside former Penn State midfielder Katie O’Donnell and Boston College star Kenzie Kent.

“I was on a team with Kenzie Kent for three weeks,” Majorana recalled. “She’s an unbelievable player who never stops moving and makes people around her better.”

Another Boston College alum is entering the league this year — perhaps you’ve heard of her. Charlotte North, fresh off a gold medal win with Team USA at the world championship, was the top pick in the college draft and the first overall pick in Monday night’s Week 1 draft.

Majorana and Levy say it’s a windfall — not just for interest in the league, but for them, too.

“It’s going to be incredible for lacrosse and Athletes Unlimited because of the attention she’ll bring, but selfishly, I’m excited to play with her,” Levy said.

North has been part of a summer of women’s lacrosse, one that started when her Boston College Eagles finished runner-up in the NCAA championship game. Members of the North Carolina team that won it all, Jamie Ortega, Emma Trenchard, Taylor Moreno and Ally Mastroianni, were also drafted into AU. (Trenchard and Mastroianni are also world champions.) The national championship game aired on ESPN for the first time and was viewed by 428,000 people on average, a record for the final contest of the year.

Majorana and Levy hope the momentum from the NCAA Final Four and world championship spills over into the AU season.

“We are in such a great place with where the support is at, winning a gold medal and coming and playing in Athletes Unlimited brings more exposure,” Majorana said. “It’s what we have been wanting for the sport.”

And she thinks fans are in for a treat.

“The game is evolving,” Majorana said. “It’s nothing like we’ve seen before. The shooting from farther out, speed … I think you’re going to see a lot of hockey assists, people moving the ball, behind-the-backs.”

And you’ll see Levy out there playing like she’s in her own backyard, something she hopes the young girls watching notice.

“You don’t play because you have to,” Levy said. “You play because you want to. I want them to see something out of the box and go do it in their backyard. Lacrosse is supposed to be fun.”


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