STONY POINT, N.Y. – There are big moments, such as the ones Northwestern will surely face this weekend at the NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship, ones not unlike those experienced during the Wildcats’ remarkable run to six national championships across the past seven seasons.
But those big moments never feel too big. Which explains the scene in the final hours before the second-seeded Wildcats (19-2) play for a seventh crown in eight years, where they matter-of-factly went through their practice paces inside Kenneth G. Lavalle Stadium while the architect of this dynasty calmly walked and watched from several yards away.
Since arriving on the shores of Lake Michigan and bringing the Wildcats’ program back to life in 2001, Kelly Amonte Hiller has delivered an endless array of indelible big moments without becoming so consumed with how big they are within an historical context.
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“I think Kelly has stayed the same,” star junior midfielder Taylor Thornton said. “That’s what makes her program so great.”
After continuing to lead the Wildcats’ quest for yet another national championship, beginning with Friday night’s semifinal matchup against Maryland, Amonte Hiller will achieve the greatest individual accolade of all: She will be inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame on Oct. 20, joining her former head coach at Maryland, Cindy Timchal, among others.
Although she smiled when recalled receiving the letter announcing her induction, she quickly redirected her energies toward continuing the Wildcats’ title drive.
“I’m just thinking about today and what we need to accomplish today,” said Amonte Hiller, 194-30 since the Wildcats resumed varsity women’s lacrosse in 2002. “I don’t really have time to sit back and reflect.”
Instead of admiring her accolades, Amonte Hiller’s focus centers around expanding her program’s legacy and fostering individual improvement.
Look at Thornton, the American Lacrosse Conference Player of the Year and a finalist for the 2012 Tewaaraton Award. From scoring 14 goals a season ago as a stalwart midfielder/defender, the junior evolved into a more potent offensive player, finding the back of the cage 30 times this season for second-seeded Northwestern.
“I know I wouldn’t be the same player I am if I went somewhere else,” Thornton said. “She pushes me when I think I think I reached my fullest potential and I’m like, ‘I got it,’ and she’s like, ‘No, you’ve still got more. You’ve still got more to do and reach.’
“And I believe her. I think it’s translated on the field over the past three years.”
Then look at sophomore Alyssa Leonard, who only began playing lacrosse as a junior at nearby Bay Shore (N.Y.) High School before the defender developed into a dynamic draw specialist since working with Amonte Hiller.
“She’s taught me basically everything I know. She’s just fine-tuned me to the extreme, I guess is the best way to put it,” Leonard said. “She finds what you’re good at.”
What both Leonard and Thornton relate are ultimately lessons Amonte Hiller learned from her father during her formative years, when he would tell his daughter that “if you think you’re working hard, there’s someone out there working harder.”
Ultimately, for all of her program’s success, the architect of this women’s lacrosse dynasty makes sure Northwestern never rests upon its laurels.
“That’s kind of the philosophy that I try to impress upon them,” Amonte Hiller said. “They may feel good about themselves, but there’s always someone out there nipping at your heels so you’ve got to root out the complacency.”
In the past seven years, the Wildcats have never been complacent in big moments, which not only explains the incredible success they have experienced.
It also explains why their coach will be inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.