May 25, 2011

Duke's Kimel, UNC's Levy Share in Each Other's Success

by J. Jude Hazard |

"I choose my friends wisely and want to spend time with people that inspire me and can match my intensity...She happens to be the Duke coach," Carolina coach Jenny Levy says of Kerstin Kimel.

On Wednesday night, a chartered plane will carry dozens of hopes and dreams from North Carolina to Islip, N.Y., for the NCAA women's lacrosse championship weekend. Flying on that one-hour plus flight will be not one, but two of this weekend's final four contenders.

Coaches and administrators at ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina agreed to share a private plane to help cut down on the hassle and travel time for both teams' trips to Stony Brook University. Fifth-seeded Duke (14-4, 4-1 ACC) will take on top-seeded Maryland on Friday at 5:30 p.m., while third-seeded North Carolina (15-5, 3-2 ACC) will face Northwestern in the 7:30 p.m. nightcap.

"Our teams are mature and can completely handle this, and it's really the best thing for both teams," Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. "I don't know of any other Duke and Carolina team that have that kind of relationship."

Both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have had success in women's lacrosse since their respective universities added the sport in 1996. North Carolina has made 13 NCAA tournament appearances and has reached the final four six times. Duke had four straight final four appearances from 2005 to 2008 and has also made the NCAA tournament 13 times. Neither team has ever made it to the championship game. This is the first year that both are appearing together in the final four.

"I'm glad to see them there," UNC coach Jenny Levy said. "I'm hoping maybe both of us win on Friday night so maybe we can see each other in the championship game, which means there would be new national champions historically for the game of lacrosse."

Levy and Kimel have shared similar paths as well. Both have been at their universities since the mid-90s and are married with three kids. They have known each other since college. Kimel called Levy one of her best friends.

"We ate dinner with them on Sunday night, and we probably only talked about lacrosse for five minutes," Kimel said. "Our children have known each other since they were babies. The length of our friendship kind of transcends the rivalry."

"We have to be selective on how we spend our time," Levy added. "I choose my friends wisely and want to spend time with people that inspire me and can match my intensity and my competitiveness and everything that I value. She happens to be the Duke coach, but we see eye-to-eye on so many things, both professionally and personally, that it's pretty seamless."

Kimel and Levy said separately that they try to be role models and mentors for the young women that they coach, emphasizing a work-life balance and the importance of family.

"We're probably both pretty good role models for our players that they can see that we can have this very healthy friendship despite the fact that we're at completely rival schools," Kimel said. "We really want the best for each other on a personal level."

The two teams will face uphill battles in their final four match-ups. Duke faces a 20-1 Maryland team that has rolled through the tournament so far, limiting its first- and second-round opponents to six goals each. Maryland beat Duke 18-11 earlier this year in College Park.

"A big difference from the last time that we played them from now is that our defensive unit is much more seasoned," Kimel said. "I think our experience will serve us well going into the weekend."

The Tar Heels play 19-2 Northwestern, which handed Albany its first loss of the year in a lopsided 18-4 NCAA quarterfinal romp.

"All the teams in the final four this weekend put a lot of pressure on the opposing teams in transition," Levy said. "The transition defense I think is going to be very important."

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