A Hurricanes connection to U.S. women’s soccer

Betsy Stephenson, (left), senior development director with the University of Miami, and U.S. women's national soccer team head coach, Jill Ellis, (right), with their daughter, Lily. 
By Meredith Camel

Betsy Stephenson, (left), senior development director with the University of Miami, and U.S. women's national soccer team head coach, Jill Ellis, (right), with their daughter, Lily. 

A Hurricanes connection to U.S. women’s soccer

By Meredith Camel
Betsy Stephenson, a senior development director at the University of Miami, is married to the head coach of the U.S. women’s national soccer team.

On Monday, University of Miami senior development director Betsy Stephenson flew back to Miami from Lyon, France, where her wife, U.S. women’s national team soccer head coach Jill Ellis, had just led the team to the FIFA World Cup victory. 

Stephenson was wearing a shirt with three gold stars, and the man next to her commented that she was missing one star—alluding to the team’s historic fourth win. 

“I asked if he saw the game,” Stephenson said, “and he replied, ‘I was in the United Arab Emirates, where most places won’t show a women’s sporting event, but I read all about it.’” 

From quiet devotees in the Arabian Peninsula to skyrocketing viewership in Europe and the Americas, worldwide enthusiasm for women’s soccer means that Ellis and Stephenson are balancing the typical demands of work and raising their 14-year-old daughter, Lily, while also navigating life in the public eye. 

Stephenson and Ellis first met in 1999 at University of California–Los Angeles, where Ellis was the women’s soccer head coach and Stephenson was the associate athletic director. A Kansas native and former volleyball student-athlete, Stephenson built a successful career in athletics administration, including the athletic director post at Emory University, before shifting gears to fundraising. 

“I was looking for a position that had some common threads [with athletics],” Stephenson said. “In fundraising, you win some, you lose some, and you’ve got to be strategic. It’s a lot like recruiting. From helping grateful patients show gratitude to building partnerships with other people who want to fundraise, it all has a team theme.” 

Through visits with friends in Miami over the years, Stephenson met University of Miami women’s basketball head coach Katie Meier, who told her about a fundraising position with Lee Kaplan, director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute. In December 2013 Stephenson joined the Hurricanes family, where she now oversees fundraising strategy not only for sports medicine but also for psychiatry and otolaryngology at UHealth–University of Miami Health System and the Miller School of Medicine. 

Ellis got the job as national team head coach just a few months after the family moved to Miami and only one year before she clinched the 2015 victory, the team’s first since 1999. The 2019 win makes Ellis the first women’s coach to win two World Cup titles. 

Ellis’ coaching schedule keeps her away from home about two weeks of every month, so when Stephenson and Lily have a chance to join her, they do. They were in London for the 2012 Olympics, where Ellis was an assistant, and in Canada for the 2015 World Cup. While in France this year, Stephenson was chatting with retired player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach, who recalled teaching Lily her sight words while on a team trip to Japan when Lily was in first grade. 

“You owe me a lot,” Wambach joked with Stephenson. 

Even though friends and family who travel with the national team spend only limited time with their team members, they develop meaningful connections with each other. 

“There are always people to do things with,” Stephenson said. “We felt a sense of camaraderie, and on game days we felt a collective sense of anxiousness.” 

When Ellis is home, the family enjoys attending Hurricanes sports events. 

“I’ve always found the University to be very family friendly,” Stephenson said. “When Jill is in town, we try to do those things. But when she’s not, I’m basically a single parent just trying to get homework done.” 

Stephenson, who “spent my career advocating for women athletes,” is grateful to the University for the flexibility to spend three weeks overseas supporting her wife in a landmark moment—not only for their family but also as another spark for the firestorm of respect that continues to build for women athletes everywhere.