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posted: 4/20/2012 8:43 PM

Cats' Kelly Amonte Hiller honored for trail-blazing efforts

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  • Northwestern women's lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller is one of 25 finalists who have been nominated as a "Title IX Trailblazer" by the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletics Administrators.

      Northwestern women's lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller is one of 25 finalists who have been nominated as a "Title IX Trailblazer" by the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletics Administrators.
    Photo by Stephen J. Carrera/Northwestern Universit

  • Northwestern women's lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller is one of 25 finalists who have been nominated as a "Title IX Trailblazer" by the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletics Administrators.

      Northwestern women's lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller is one of 25 finalists who have been nominated as a "Title IX Trailblazer" by the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletics Administrators.
    Photo by Stephen J. Carrera/Northwestern Universit

  • Pat Summitt

      Pat Summitt

 
 

Plenty of female college lacrosse players still wear skirts as part of their uniforms.

But many wear shorts, a trend that started recently at Northwestern when head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller decided to buck tradition. She figured her players might be more comfortable.

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Amonte Hiller has also strived to make her players more efficient, so she spent a great deal of time with equipment manufacturer Brine to design a lacrosse stick that would be easier for women to grip and use. The stick, which comes in three editions, bears her name.

"One of the biggest things I try to do as a coach is to make things better for the next generation of student-athletes," said Amonte Hiller, a star lacrosse player at Maryland. "I am so appreciative of the people who did that for me in my life that I feel responsible to take it to the next level."

Speaking of responsibility, by turning Northwestern from an afterthought club sport into a perennial national power nearly overnight, Amonte Hiller is credited in many circles with the explosion of lacrosse in the Midwest. Add in the uniform shorts and the new stick and it's easy to understand why she is considered a trailblazer in her industry.

In fact, Amonte Hiller is part of a prestigious list of 25 finalists who have been nominated as a "Title IX Trailblazer" by the National Association of Collegiate Women's Athletics Administrators.

Amonte Hiller, whose six NCAA national championships at Northwestern in the last seven years have challenged lacrosse's roots as an exclusively East Coast sport, is honored by the nomination. But she chuckles at the notion that she is even old enough to be a trailblazer. She is only 38 years old.

"I definitely feel like a lot of people blazed the trail for me," Amonte Hiller said. "To see the people I'm nominated with is amazing because I'm still a fairly young coach. To be in that same company is really exciting."

The 25 nominating schools have all made YouTube videos of the trailblazer hopefuls, which include DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, former Illinois State athletic administrator Dr. Laurie Mabry, former longtime Texas women's basketball coach Jody Conradt and former UCLA multi-sport star Ann Meyers Drysdale.

The school with the video that receives the most views by April 23 (you still have three more days of viewing/voting) will be presented with a $9,000 gift from the NACWAA Foundation Fund in honor of this year's 40th anniversary of Title IX. The money is to be used for supporting women's athletic programs at the school.

Videos can be viewed at www.nacwaa.org/title-IX-trailblazer-tribute-video-contest.

"I guess I'm always thinking about the next thing that I'm going to do and we've done things a little differently at Northwestern," Amonte Hiller said. "Maybe that makes me a trailblazer, but really, that's just my style."

Amonte Hiller's style is clearly one to be imitated.

Her top-ranked Wildcats are 14-0 headed into today's 1 p.m. clash with No. 5 Florida at Lakeside Field in Evanston. Over the last seven years, Northwestern has entered every season besides the 2010 campaign as the No. 1 team in the country and has maintained that top ranking from start to finish with only a few exceptions.

"I actually think our entire program has been a trailblazer for this sport, in two ways," Amonte Hiller said. "One is that when you have a continual champion, it brings a lot of attention to the sport, like the Connecticut women's basketball team or the North Carolina women's soccer team. And by being in the Midwest, we've exposed our sport to a lot of different markets.

"Also, I think our success is helping the sport grow across the country because it has convinced athletic directors that you can add this sport and compete quickly and be successful."

Fond farewell:

Best wishes go out to legendary Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, one of the classiest in the business. Ever.

She met with reporters in a nationally televised news conference Thursday to talk about the next chapter of her life. She announced earlier this week that she will be stepping down as the most successful college basketball coach of all time after 38 years on the job.

Summitt's health has made keeping up with the rigors of a perennial powerhouse program difficult. She was diagnosed with early-onset dementia Alzheimer's type prior to the season and took on a much less active role on the sidelines this winter.

As of next season, Summitt will operate as Tennessee's head coach emeritus. She will go to practice and assist new head coach Holly Warlick, but she will not coach in games.

The 59-year-old Summitt ends her career with 8 national titles and 1,098 wins, more wins than any collegiate coach, male or female. She also graduated all 161 women who played for her and completed their eligibility at Tennessee.

There won't ever be another coach like her.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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