Northwestern women's lacrosse had eyes on a national championship for 2020
It might be worse to contemplate "what could have been," rather than "what wasn't."
At least with "what wasn't," there's some closure, and probably some reason or explanation for why something didn't work out.
For the players on the Northwestern women's lacrosse team, sitting with "what could have been in 2020" has been torture, because what could have been this spring was expected to be pretty darn good. And now, the Wildcats will never know for sure.
Coming off a Big Ten championship in 2019 and a preseason No. 3 national ranking in 2020, Northwestern had its eyes zeroed in on another national championship this spring. The Wildcats, who have won seven national championships since 2012 and got to the national quarterfinals last year, firmly believed that they were one of the best teams in the country.
They returned 29 players from the previous season, including three preseason All-Americans, the 2019 Big Ten freshman of the year, and three members of the Team USA U19 world champions.
But seven games into the 2020 season, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Wildcats and the rest of the country, and left all kinds of loose ends in its wake.
"It was definitely a raw feeling," Northwestern lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said of having the season abruptly stopped. "There were a lot of emotions.
"We were growing a lot in the short time we had together. We felt like we were already starting to come into our own. We had just had a really good, back-and-forth, hard-fought game against the No. 1 team in the country (North Carolina, a 20-18 loss). We were feeling good that we were right there in the hunt among the top teams in the nation. And to lose that (momentum) was just really, really tough."
Now, all Amonte Hiller can do, like most coaches, is to keep her players engaged and upbeat through Zoom video conferences.
"It's been a challenge to help the kids grapple with their new normal," said Amonte Hiller, who is also busy at home helping her two daughters, age 13 and 8, with their e-learning from school. "We are just trying to keep them motivated the best we can."
Special speakers have helped with that. They've been Amonte Hiller's special sauce during the quarantine.
"That's the biggest thing we've done to keep the kids engaged," Amonte Hiller said. "The kids are taking a lot away from the speakers because a lot of times we've had speakers who are athletes and dealing with a lot of the same things our players are dealing with."
One speaker who was particularly powerful was Kayla Harrison, a mixed martial arts fighter and two-time Olympic champion who spoke about the adversity she overcame after being sexually abused by her judo coach when she was 13.
"It's been so good for our players to hear positive, inspirational messages like that," Amonte Hiller said. "That's a much different adversity, but we're wanting our players to hear about how other people deal with adversity and how you get through it."
Amonte Hiller expects that her players will use the adversity of a lost season as fuel for next year.
Two of her 10 seniors, Megan Kinna and Lindsey McKone, will take advantage of the NCAA's allowance for seniors in spring sports to come back next school year for an extra year of eligibility.
"Both of them felt like they had high expectations for this year and that they wanted to be leaders, so right when this happened, I think they wanted to come back," Amonte Hiller said. "I think they both felt like they have unfinished business."
Probably all the Wildcats think that.
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