Northwestern women's lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller
By Matt Herb
Special to PlaySportsTV
At one point, Kelly Amonte Hiller was known as NHL star Tony Amonte’s younger sister. Not anymore.
Amonte Hiller is one of the biggest names in women’s lacrosse. As a player at the University of Maryland, she was a four-time All-American and a two-time NCAA Division I Player of the Year. As coach at Northwestern University, she guided the Wildcats to four straight women's lacrosse national championships from 2005-08.
Amonte Hiller took some time to discuss her background and provide lacrosse tips for youth coaches and players:
PlaySportsTV: How did you get started playing lacrosse?
Amonte Hiller: I was really fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I had never even played the sport until high school, but I picked it up really quickly. It’s such a great game; it’s so much fun to start from the get-go. It’s not like ice hockey, where you have to learn how to skate. As long as you can run, you can pick up the sport pretty quickly.
PSTV: How do you see girls’ lacrosse and women’s lacrosse growing?
Amonte Hiller: When I was in high school in Massachusetts, it was in its infancy compared to some of the other states. In college, I got exposed to the tradition of Maryland. After college, coming out here to Northwestern, it was the same exact thing. Lacrosse was in its infancy, and I can’t tell you the transition it has made just in the state of Illinois. It’s grown so much in the past seven years.
PSTV: What were your hopes when you took over coaching lacrosse at Northwestern?
Amonte Hiller: My hope was to do what we did at Maryland when I was a player. That’s what I knew. I knew success and I knew how we achieved it. I took a lot of the things we did at Maryland and I took my own philosophies and meshed them and created something new and exciting.
PSTV: What was the key to coaching a championship lacrosse team?
Amonte Hiller: In terms of my team, the key was getting the girls to believe – believe in what my philosophy was, believe they could win and believe in themselves. That, along with the hard work they put in, was the key to our success. It really wasn’t any special thing that we did. It was a combination of believing in ourselves and hard work.
PSTV: What was the talent level like when you took over Northwestern’s women’s lacrosse team?
Amonte Hiller: It was pretty low. But I brought in some recruits. We got kids who wanted to take a risk and were excited about working hard. So even though we had to overcome certain things, we had the core of what it takes to be successful. We proved that you don’t have to have every piece of the puzzle. You just have to play together and want it the most.
PSTV: You had never been a head coach before being hired by Northwestern. What was the learning curve like for you?
Amonte Hiller: It was a big learning curve, but I believed in my ability to lead this team. I had a conviction that I could help teach the girls and make them better on a daily basis. I also didn’t think long-term. Sometimes when you think long-term you get overwhelmed. You think, ‘Oh God, I’ve got to do so much.’ I thought about things day to day. What do we need to do to get better?
PSTV: That sounds like a good approach not just to coaching but to learning the sport.
Amonte Hiller: Definitely. Especially for athletes who are coming in and have never played the game before but have strong athleticism. It’s a matter of having a little patience and going for it, seeing what you can do.
PSTV: What tips would you give to someone who is beginning to learn how to play lacrosse?
Amonte Hiller: Working on individual skills outside of practice will help you bridge the gap quickly. I had two players here at Northwestern who had never played the game or even seen the game. Nothing. But they were unbelievable athletes. They had played rugby, basketball, everything. For them the key in bridging the gap was working outside of practice, working on their skills, wanting to get better and having that drive. I think a lot of times young kids think, ‘Oh, my coach is going to teach me in practice what it takes to be the best.’ They may teach you concepts in practice, but you have to work on them outside of practice.
PSTV: One last question: What was it like growing up in such an athletic family?
Amonte Hiller: It was awesome. It was so much fun. Every day it was another competition. We played outside. There weren’t so many organized things. That’s one thing I think society should get back to – less organized play and more just playing out in the park. There’s no coach to pat you on the back and make you feel better. I had to do that for myself. That really helped me gain confidence and shaped who I am today. It made me very resilient and able to prepare for a situation like I’m in now at Northwestern.