Photo by Kelvin Ma (J04)
Photo by Kelvin Ma (J04)
Northwestern's Dream Team
Lacrosse head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller isn’t a big believer in setting specific goals for her teams. She feels that they could limit her players’ performance and actually impede progress. Instead she chooses to focus on philosophies, concepts and mottoes like the one for last season: “The Team is the Dream.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to quarrel with her approach.
Last season Northwestern’s lacrosse team set school records for wins, consecutive wins, goals and points; made it to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship; ended the season ranked sixth in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association’s national poll; earned Amonte Hiller several coach of the year honors; and saw Courtney Koester (McC04) named first-team All-American and Kristen Kjellman voted National Rookie of the Year by Inside Lacrosse magazine.
“It was probably shocking for people around the country to see our success,” says Amonte Hiller, “but not to us because we had dreamed it and believed it. We told the team from the beginning that we were going to improve, every day, at a higher rate than other Division I schools. I’ve been really fortunate. My players believed in my philosophy.”
The team was fueled by the skill and enthusiasm of a number of freshmen starters and the steady leadership of the juniors. They started the season with a win and a loss and then went 74 days without another defeat, winning 13 games in a row. A first-round victory over the University of Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament sent the team into the quarterfinals, where they lost to the University of Virginia, the eventual national champions.
Their accomplishments were all the more surprising because lacrosse had just been reinstated as a varsity sport at Northwestern in 2002, after a nine-year hiatus.
“It’s hard to pin our success on one particular thing,” says co-captain Sarah Albrecht, a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences senior from Braintree, Mass. “For one, the coaching staff we have has been amazing. Kelly has always done an unbelievable job turning high school athletes into well-polished lacrosse players. She is a great, positive coach.”
Both the coach and the captain credit the spirited freshmen with making a huge contribution. “They weren’t afraid to try things, weren’t afraid to make mistakes. I want to keep that enthusiasm,” says Amonte Hiller.
Kjellman, a Weinberg sophomore from Westwood, Mass., reflected the maturity of the younger players in commenting on the team’s record-setting winning streak. “It was exciting, but frankly I didn’t think about it too much,” she says. “We tried to focus on one game at a time. It was a nice accomplishment, but what I’d really like to see would be a four-game win streak next year in the NCAA tournament.”
The team’s success attracted a number of loyal fans during the season. Preston “Bud” Beard (EB39, G51) went to as many home games as possible and refers to the players as “my kids. I don’t pay their bills, but they’re my kids,” he says. “These are super women — bright, sharp and dedicated.”
Strong support also comes from members of the men’s teams, who often cheered the squad on from the hill just outside Lakeside Field. “Basketball and football are the two main sports here and in many schools,” says men’s basketball player Ivan Tolic, a Weinberg junior from Split, Croatia, who started following the team this year despite not knowing one rule of lacrosse. “I realized that all these girls compete on the highest level and give all of their best, just like us. Athletes know each other, and in a sense we are a family. I know how much it means for me to see my family and friends at our games, so I know that it’s the same for them.” — T. S.