Julianne Sitch Keeps Her Eye on the Ball

The head coach of the men’s soccer team reflects on her career, coaching philosophy, and a record-breaking season.


Eric Fang

Sitch on the touchline in November 2022.

By Amman Kejela

For head men’s soccer coach Julianne Sitch, the road to a record-breaking soccer team starts with the little things. “My coaching philosophy is ‘getting better every single day’… I want people to make mistakes, I want people to feel like they can try new things. If we fail, that’s ok. It’s all about getting better,” she said. “If you just get 1% better every single day, imagine how much better you’re going to be at the end of the year.” 

Sitch, an Illinois native, has always worked towards big goals. She started playing soccer at the age of five in her hometown of Oswego, where there was no girls’ soccer program. “I was actually the only girl on the team,” she said, laughing, “but as a young kid, I always dreamed of being on the national team.” 

Over the next twenty years, she worked to make that dream a reality. After playing in youth leagues throughout her childhood, Sitch joined the Illinois Olympic Development Program, a group which looks to help youth further their soccer skills in hopes of making it as professionals, while still in high school. She then went on to an award-winning career at DePaul University on their DI women’s soccer team, where she still holds the school’s records for career goals and assists. 

In 2004, Sitch was called up to the U.S. under-21 women’s national team, winning the Nordic Cup in Sweden. “I went to Sweden because it was the highest level you could play at… [being on the field] was an incredible experience.” From 2005 to 2015, Sitch played for professional club teams at the highest levels of women’s soccer, including the Chicago Red Stars, where she was later also the coach of the reserve team.  

When asked what she was proudest of in her soccer career, though, Sitch didn’t mention any awards or trophies. “I know I showed up every day, laid it all out there, [and] wore my heart on my sleeve,” she said. “A champion mindset doesn’t relate to just winning…but how you approach your everyday life, on and off the field.” 

Sitch retired from professional soccer in 2015. That year, she joined the UChicago Athletics staff as assistant women’s soccer coach. During her time, the women’s team went on to win a record 22 matches and reached the Final Four of the NCAA Championships.  

“The student athletes at UChicago are very talented… they want to work, they want to achieve a lot, and that’s very inspiring to me. [Head women’s soccer coach] Amy Reifert was a huge mentor and leader for me. I learned a lot from her,” she said. “I was honored to start my collegiate coaching career at a place like UChicago.” In 2018, Sitch briefly left UChicago to be the assistant women’s soccer coach at the University of Illinois Chicago. 

This year, Sitch has returned to UChicago as head men’s soccer coach. Her appointment makes her one of a handful of women coaching a men’s team at the collegiate level, and the only female head coach of a men’s team at UChicago. “Really it was [outgoing head men’s soccer coach] Pat Flinn who encouraged me to look at the position,” she said. “He called me and told me to go for it.” Sitch was undeterred by the prospect of coaching the men’s team; for her, coaching requires the same skills whether it’s on the men’s or women’s side. “The way that I look at it, I’m coaching athletes. I’m helping athletes push themselves to be at their best, to go after their dreams, to continue to develop.”  

The bigger transition for Sitch was becoming head coach after seven years as an assistant coach. “It’s my first head coach position at the collegiate level. I coached the [Chicago Red Stars] reserve team, but it’s a different role, and there are new responsibilities.” When Sitch took over, she found an already excellent team she could elevate. “Pat Flinn and [assistant coach] Michael Mauro created an unbelievable culture and competitive environment,” she said. With an already proven team, Sitch “was looking to add what I’ve gained throughout my career and experiences,” she said. “Coaching really is a team effort…I feel that with my staff, and the team as well, it takes everyone.” 

 Under Sitch’s leadership, the men’s soccer team has broken a school record in going undefeated in the regular season, with 16 wins and one tie out of 17 matches. The team is also undefeated in the University Athletic Association (UAA) conference and ranked first in their region of the NCAA’s Division III, a double honor which has only been achieved three times since UChicago joined the UAA in 1987. While the men’s soccer team excels, Sitch is still focused on improvement. “The team has been phenomenal…they’re gritty, they’re relentless, they’re hungry to go after more,” she said. “I hope that we can continue to leave the team a legacy where the athletes can walk away feeling very proud and happy of their time here.” 

After their November 5 win against Washington University, the men’s soccer team secured the outright UAA title and will advance to the NCAA DIII Championships. UChicago Men’s Soccer will be one of five teams with no losses going into the postseason. Their first match in the NCAA championships will be a home game on November 12 against Birmingham Southern.