Before Mary-Frances Monroe was a four-time All-American in college and coach of the University of Miami women’s soccer team, she was a 13-year-old playing for the Olympic Development Program in New York. Her coach was Jill Ellis, who is now the head coach of the United States women’s national soccer team. That chance encounter more than two decades ago laid the foundation of a close relationship between the two coaches that continues to this day.
“She’s probably the best teacher I’ve ever had, to the point of being nervous when you try to do something in front of her because you don’t want to disappoint her,” Monroe said about Ellis. “People say, ‘You still get nervous around Jill.’ It’s because I have so much respect for her. She’s like my family. She’s like my big sister.”
Although she is not actually related to Ellis, the World Cup winner’s family has been with Monroe for most of her life. Monroe played for Ellis’s brother and father in her teens, and went on to play under Ellis on the national under-21 team and in her senior year of college at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Monroe went to the University of Connecticut for her first three years of college, but felt that she was not growing enough as a player. When she decided to transfer for her senior year, Monroe’s bond with Ellis led her to choose the Bruins.
“I definitely decided to go to UCLA because of that relationship,” Monroe said. “I knew I had one more year to play and I wanted it to be a positive experience, and Jill was just so smart, so charismatic. A big influence on my life, both on and off the field.”
The relationship only grew after Monroe finished her college career. Ellis hired Monroe to be part of the United States women’s national soccer team staff and she still continues to scout and evaluate players for the top team in women’s soccer.
“She’s great. I respected her as a player; I got to know her as a person. She’s just a high-quality person and player,” Ellis said of Monroe. “I’m really pleased that she’s here at this great institution.”
Ellis attended the team’s game on Sunday versus Clemson in a University of Miami jacket. After losing 2-1 in double overtime to the Tigers, Monroe spent the next day with Ellis.
“Guess whose couch I sat on yesterday?” Monroe joked. “Her door is always open. Jill’s door is always open to myself. I can sit on the couch and talk about soccer. I can talk about her daughter, I can talk about my family; it doesn’t have to be just about soccer. That’s what a great person she is.”
Ellis even made time to grab coffee with Monroe and her friends on the day of the United States women’s national soccer team’s match versus Sweden in the World Cup.
“That just tells you what kind of person she is. She will take time out of the day, a very important day,” Monroe said. “She’ll always take the time to have me around, which I think is so special.”
The Hurricanes are off to a tough start this season with three wins and seven losses, but in her third year as head coach, Monroe is still learning. Fortunately, she has the best teacher in the game to guide her.