Anyone who has ever watched a game of lacrosse will tell you - it’s a sport that requires the perfect balance of finesse, strength, and a sheer will to win.
Northwestern University’s women’s lacrosse team head coach, Kelly Amonte Hiller, is the epitome of such qualities.
When Amonte Hiller first took the reigns in 2002 at the age of 25, the NU lacrosse program was floundering; it had been 10 years since the Wildcats had competed at the varsity level. At that point, the team was made up of mostly freshmen and sophomores, some of whom had never even played the game. A daunting task certainly, but for Amonte Hiller, failure was not an option.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself in general,” Amonte Hiller said. “That is just my M.O. I really believe that pretty much whatever I set my mind to, I am going to do it to the best of my ability and I have the confidence that I am going to be successful at it. That is how I came into this program. I really didn’t know any different.”
It’s that level of confidence that essentially resuscitated the NU lacrosse program, turning it into a virtual powerhouse seemingly overnight. By 2004, the Wildcats were a force to be reckoned with, turning in a sparkling 15-3 record while advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. In 2005, Amonte Hiller led the Wildcats to a staggering 21-0 record en route to becoming the first team outside the Eastern time zone to be crowned NCAA champions.
Amonte Hiller was just warming up.
Fast forward to today, and Amonte Hiller and the NU Wildcats are now the gold standard in collegiate lacrosse. That’s what seven NCAA titles in eight years will do for a program.
I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Amonte Hiller to pick her brain about her success, her family, her team and her future. Throughout our conversation, it became abundantly clear why Amonte Hiller has been able to achieve such an extraordinary level of success. The passion with which she spoke about not only the sport that she loves, but her team as well, is a testament to her dedication to the program. On more than one occasion she referred to her team as her “family.” That is exactly how she treats her players. She is able to delicately balance the combination of tough love and compassion as a coach. And year after year, her team responds.
“When people tend to let up, we push the gas pedal,” said Amonte Hiller. “I think that is just my general philosophy and that is why the girls have become strong. We are continuing to push them every day and so I think they appreciate that.”
As far as her future goes, Amonte Hiller has a hard time seeing herself anywhere but in Evanston. Despite the fact she grew up on the East Coast, Northwestern is now her home. It’s where her two young daughters were born. And in many ways, the NU lacrosse program that she has poured her heart and her soul into is very much her third child.
“For me this is everything. I feel that I have built this program. This place is very special,” Amonte Hiller said. “I hope that I can continue to push my student-athletes to be strong women and to have some success while they are here, but also in life. For my family, I hope I can do the same. Push myself to be a great mom and wife and just be better every day.”
And every day, Northwestern is thankful for Kelly Amonte Hiller.