This article on 2008 Lacrosse Magazine Person of the Year Kelly Amonte Hiller appeared in the December 2008 issue.
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Scott Hiller's presence has factored into his wife's success. "I think Scotty has a lot to do with it," says former Northwestern star Meredith Frank. "He's incredibly innovative."
© Kevin P. Tucker
Kelly played soccer, basketball and lacrosse at Thayer Academy.
Her talent surfaced early. The school’s basketball coach tore
a knee ligament trying to mark her in practice. Lisa Miller, now
the head coach at Harvard, lured Amonte Hiller into lacrosse and
coached her as a freshman at Thayer at the same time Miller was
training for the U.S. team.
“More than anything, it’s probably embarrassing for me,” Miller says now, “because she was 14 and using me like a cone.”
When Sports Illustrated did state-by-state rankings of the 50 greatest athletes in history, Kelly Amonte Hiller was No. 21 on the Massachusetts list. Her brother, Tony Amonte, a five-time NHL All-Star, did not make the cut.
“There’s always that next level,” Amonte Hiller says. “My dad really ingrained that in me.”
To bring lacrosse to the next level, Amonte Hiller has emphasized innovative stick work. Mary Ann Meltzer, the head coach at rising Division I program Detroit Mercy, first caught a Wildcats practice — where partner passing might evolve into swatting the ball backhanded to the ground and returning it at waist level — when Amonte Hiller invited her to Evanston last season.
“It’s almost like with the ball, there’s a magnet,” Meltzer says.
After Northwestern handled Detroit in a scrimmage this fall, Amonte Hiller reminded Meltzer of where her program once was, and encouraged her to remain creative and persistent. It’s the only way to rattle the East Coast establishment.
“I could list off hundreds of thousands of drills that we’ve done in the past three years,” says Frank, a rising senior with the Wildcats, “but I can guarantee that we’re probably not going to do any of those this year.”
Even Hilary Bowen, the MVP of the 2008 NCAA championship game, marvels at the complexity and ingenuity of Northwestern’s offense.
“You feel like you’re in second grade again,” she says, “trying to learn how to play a sport.”
By comparison, Northwestern’s high-pressure defense was a simple development, born of necessity in the program’s early days. Amonte Hiller wanted to create an edge for her athletic, but sometimes inexperienced, players, so she borrowed from basketball and modified a full-court press for lacrosse.
“We Can Still Go So Much Further”
Amonte Hiller uses the full-court press on the recruiting circuit, too. She denies that she started the practice of offering scholarships to juniors, but doesn’t see a problem with it. Others do.
“A lot of us in the women’s game don’t want to see it get as aggressive as basketball — when the kid leaves an official visit and shows up to the airport with a fax from another school,” says Denver head coach Liza Kelly. “I don’t think Kelly breaks any rules, but that vibe, maybe I wouldn’t do it that way.”
Amonte Hiller remembers the lean days when she had to beg East Coast girls to take a chance on Northwestern. Those experiences led her to oppose the IWLCA’s recent proposal to limit recruitment of non-senior high school athletes to the three weekends before Thanksgiving, a move she believes will unnecessarily handicap developing college teams.
“For me, that’s not a selfish thing,” says Amonte Hiller, whose success now generates a steady stream of quality recruits.