This article on 2008 Lacrosse Magazine Person of the Year Kelly Amonte Hiller appeared in the December 2008 issue.
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Kelly Amonte Hiller acknowledges the crowd after Northwestern's 2008 NCAA championship game victory, its fourth straight.
"It just took her away from that place,” says Dennis.
“We’ve lost a lot of friends. Jaclyn doesn’t
really have any friends, because of treatment and everything like
that. The Wildcats are her friends.”
One day in 2005, another patient asked Jaclyn who was calling her so often. Jaclyn gazed at the other little girl, who looked painfully ill and was hooked up to an IV. She turned to her father.
“Dad, we’ve got to get her a team.”
Fast-forward three years, and Jaclyn is in remission, and Friends of Jaclyn, a nonprofit founded by Dennis to link pediatric brain tumor patients with college athletes, has 70 kids adopted by teams from 18 different sports. As a fundraiser, Amonte Hiller has collaborated with Brine to create a special commemorative stick with the FOJ logo, a jaunty string of pink elephants (symbols of good luck, good health and good memories). Dennis Murphy wants to make the FOJ pink elephant as ubiquitous as the pink breast cancer ribbon. St. Bonaventure’s women’s lacrosse team has already outfitted the entire team with FOJ sticks, and the Wildcats will carry a special edition version.
“They don’t know the impact they’re having on the brain tumor community,” Dennis Murphy says. “Friends of Jaclyn, it’s across the country. They have parents and children who are depressed who are coming out of the house and saying, ‘It’s OK. I have a brain tumor, but it’s OK.’”
Northwestern has lost just three games since 2005, but that statistic is less absurd than the figure that follows those losses: three wins by a combined score of 54-18. Vindictive much?
For all the grumbling about Northwestern running up scores, there were some close calls during 2008.
After watching his sister’s team edge a sub-.500 Johns Hopkins team, 14-12, in Evanston on April 18, Tony Amonte told Kelly: “Man, they’re just looking for a way to lose.”
Nine days later, they did.
Thanks to Waxman, the chest-thumping goalie who on the eve of facing Northwestern crowed,
“Bring it on,” and relentless ball possession, Penn ended the Wildcats’ 36-game winning streak with an 11-7 victory. Amonte Hiller couldn’t call a timeout during the shut-out second half because the Wildcats never had the ball long enough.
After such a loss, you might expect the purple paint to peel from the walls of her office, but Amonte Hiller met defeat with a sense of renewal.
The Penn loss came on a Sunday. The team had Monday off. The Wildcats gathered Tuesday morning at the Evanston Boxing Club, as they have every Tuesday for the last three years. The sound of gloved fists hitting heavy bags thudded across the gym. A purging was in progress.
“It wasn’t lacrosse, but it was a way to get out what you wanted to get out,” Bowen says.
For her part, Amonte Hiller purged the playbook. Instead of threading needles, the Wildcats went back to basics between the lines, a return to the raw athleticism that defined the program when they played on a dirt field shared with the marching band.
Four weeks later, Finch flew towards the goal and beat Waxman to put the definitive stamp on Northwestern’s dynasty, and Amonte Hiller smiled.
“Outsiders would say that she’s a loner,” Bowen says of her coach. “I think it’s more that she’s a leader.”