As the clock struck zero and Hailey Rhatigan tacked on one final goal in her storied college career, Kelly Amonte Hiller couldn’t hide the euphoria on her face.
Amonte Hiller, the typically stoic, down-to-business coach of Northwestern lacrosse, hugged staff members tightly on the sideline with an ear-to-ear grin across her face. Following the Wildcats’ 18-6 dismantling of Boston College in the National Championship, NU was atop the women’s lacrosse world yet again.
While the ‘Cats have made the Final Four every year since 2019 (void the Covid season), 2023 marked the team’s first national title since 2012 — 4,018 days in the making. With her squad’s championship drought over, Amonte Hiller spoke candidly postgame about adjusting after 11 years without achieving her ultimate goal.
“The years after that run of championships, it was pretty challenging,” Amonte Hiller said. “I was pretty hard on myself, taking a lot of ownership. I was putting too [many] expectations on myself and on the team.”
“I got to the point where, I just said, ‘I’m hitting the reset button. Completely resetting this program. Going back to how I started it in 2005.’”
That 2005 campaign began a dynastic run for Northwestern. The team claimed five consecutive titles as well as seven of eight first-place finishes. Establishing that type of standard and culture of winning is largely unprecedented in any sport, collegiate or professional — yet it’s an expectation that has allowed Amonte Hiller to emerge as one of the greatest college coaches of all time.
On Sunday, the Northwestern head coach notched her eighth national title, matching former NU and current Navy coach Cindy Timchal for the most in women’s college lacrosse history. Amonte Hiller paused to reflect upon what the honor meant.
“Cindy is my idol. I pretty much owe everything to her, along with my parents and my family,” Amonte Hiller said. “She just taught me so much. I still lean on her as a mentor. To even be in the same conversation as Cindy Timchal, it’s quite an honor.”
While Amonte Hiller’s hardware places her in an exclusive echelon, the Wildcat leader has distinguished herself and her accomplishments in other ways.
By claiming the title in 2005, Northwestern became the first non-Eastern Time Zone school to win it all, establishing precedence for greater geographic parity across the sport. Additionally, with her victory on Sunday from Cary, North Carolina, Amonte Hiller became the only women’s lacrosse coach to win a championship in three different decades.
Beyond just Amonte Hiller’s superb tactics, the ‘Cats were led in the title game — as they were all year — by Izzy Scane, who returned from a torn ACL and missed all of 2022. Scane, who scored four goals against the Eagles, emphasized a different team mindset entering 2023.
“This year, we really focused on, ‘It’s just a game. Every single game’s just a game,’” said Scane, now the all-time leading goal-scorer in NU history.
There’s little debate that the Wildcats boasted the most talented and deepest team in the country, fostering their catapult to a ring — but pure ability doesn’t promise a deep postseason run. Ultimately, that’s what makes the coaching acumen of Amonte Hiller, prevailing with a group totally revamped since 2012, so special.