Once ridiculed for playing flashy, Nicole Levy’s creativity has ‘changed the way people rip it’

first_imgLevy’s six cousins, all boys, molded her complicated moves and innovative shots. She didn’t watch women’s lacrosse until she was a sophomore in high school. Instead, Levy was put in a local boys lacrosse summer camp at 4 years old. She treaded the sidelines of Steve’s over-35 tournaments in Lake Placid. And when her cousins tagged along, they’d challenge other team’s younger siblings. In most cases, she was the only girl around. “I think as soon as I touched the ball once, I had proved myself,” Levy said. Her natural tendency to play below-the-shoulders soon became a point of criticism by Levy’s old program director, a rival of Steve’s in Long Island. When Steve got light of this, he simply responded: “I’m not going to make her play any other way.”By her sophomore year of high school, the reactions were still mixed. During one camp, she almost got in trouble for going behind the back. Then, the next weekend, players lined up and practiced sidearm one-by-one, trying to emulate their teammate. Levy’s play was not only welcomed, but praised by one of the sport’s greatest players in Gait. In the middle of a game her senior year, a referee approached Steve and told him that some opposing players had asked him to make Levy stop shooting so hard. “Yeah, I just laughed,” Steve said. While Levy’s trick shots dazzled, the outside shot became a staple of her game around that time. Standing at 5-foot-2, she started to rip from eight, sometimes from 10 or 12 yards, because she couldn’t blow by her defenders like some midfielders. Levy needed to compensate for “not being that fast,” she said.“It was kind of electrifying,” Steve said about her outside shot. “It’s the perfect storm.”But, as a freshman, the attack who played primarily behind the goal wasn’t a centerpiece anymore — Kayla Treanor, Syracuse’s leading career-goal scorer, held that spot. Levy’s game was still unconventional, even in the college ranks, and the shy freshman didn’t know if it would translate.Amy Nakamura | Co-Digital EditorThat uneasiness was erased on one play midway through her first season. The ball rotated to Levy against Albany on a skip pass, and instead of finding a cutter, Levy darted toward the eight-meter. Steve and associate head coach Regy Thorpe remember being in awe of the velocity of her underhanded shot. Two steps outside of the eight, she hit nylon.“Everything hit there,” Levy said. “I’m thinking ‘Yeah, I’m an outside shooter. I can play like a guy.’ I can bring this aspect of men’s lacrosse into the women’s game and kind of change the game a little bit.”An emulation of a Final Four team her freshman year wouldn’t come into fruition in her sophomore and junior season. Syracuse was in the midst of a rebuild with Levy at the crux of it until this season. Levy would still make highlight-reel plays, and her style wasn’t questioned like it was in high school.She entered 2019 coming off a 41-goal season, second-most on SU, but in September an injury to her peroneal tendon caused Levy to get three screws in her ankle. As of a month ago, she’s now dealing with plantar fasciitis in her heel. The patented rips from the eight-meter are more of a rarity and, in turn, it has hampered her scoring abilities, Steve said.Now, Levy calls herself a “feeder and a leader.” She leads the Orange in assists (26). And when opponents switch their coverages or leave someone uncovered, she’s the first to call it out. It’s a new role, she said, and she’s OK with it.Up a player against Virginia in the first round of the ACC tournament, Levy shuffled onto the field. Men’s teams usually send their “man-up squad” always with one “big shooter” — Levy’s eager to point out that on this play, it was her. The ball floated around the net, and freshman Megan Carney, who was behind the goal, flipped it to an open Levy.There was a cutter in the middle. Levy had space to run. But that’s not who she is. One step, then two. A long angle, eight meters from the net aiming for the top right. An underhanded follow-through turned into a stick-drop and an embrace with Gait. “When Nicole stormed onto the scene her freshman year ripping it from outside, she had a lot of young players in the world doing the low-to-high,” Thorpe said. “She’s certainly changed the way people rip it now.”Jordan Phelps | Staff Photographer Published on May 5, 2019 at 10:10 pm Contact KJ: kjedelma@syr.edu | @KJEdelman Comments Nicole Levy knew her underhanded passes were a bit flashy. She admits she liked the attention that came with every dish. Walking off the field after a youth lacrosse tournament in ninth grade, someone approached Levy about them. Those passes, the ones praised her entire life, were seen as a selfish act.Sometimes, her cutting teammates couldn’t catch those passes, even if they hit their sticks. The person blamed Levy and said she should adjust her game. But Levy didn’t listen.Her style of play, a resemblance of the qualities praised in men’s lacrosse, was being labeled as unconventional. The teenager walked away in tears, and her father Steve followed trying to reassure her.“He’s like ‘Don’t listen to them, keep being you, eventually it’s going to pay off,’” Levy said. “And it has, so he was right.”Other than her father, SU head coach Gary Gait was one of the first to support the high schooler’s creative play, and Levy has brought it with her to Syracuse. The style that’s put her on SportsCenter. The style that’s been face-guarded on the defensive end and mimicked on the other. And the one that’s changed the game for “big shooters” with behind-the-back repertoires. As the senior nears the end of her illustrious four-year career at Syracuse this month, Levy plans on becoming a collegiate coach — one that doesn’t hinder creativity, but embraces it.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“That’s just how I play,” Levy said. “If people are going to praise that then that’s great. If not, too bad, because it works.” Facebook Twitter Google+last_img