Many branches to Hiller coaching tree

"I remember taking my two daughters to the 1999 Women's (soccer) World Cup final and feeling how empowering that was for young girls," Haden said. "Kelly has empowered young women the same way. They think, 'I can be Kelly. I can be a great head coach, too.'''

Amonte Hiller's players-turned-coaches emulate her in another way, defying the axiom that great players rarely make great coaches because they can't relate to those with lesser talent. The NU women coaching in Division I include some of the finest players in not only their era but in women's lacrosse history.

"I started thinking, 'What am I best at?', and the answer always ended up being lacrosse," said Danielle Spencer, an All-America attacker in her first year as a Northwestern assistant. "It becomes such a big part of who you are."

Spencer graduated in 2010 with a degree in social policy and had no intention of coaching. She got a job with a software company in the San Francisco area through one of Amonte Hiller's contacts. Within months, Spencer found herself involved in coaching kids and last year became assistant coach at Stanford.

"I called Kelly and confessed serious thoughts about going into coaching," Spencer said. "I never saw it as a career until now."

Amonte Hiller did not envision Ann Elliott becoming a coach when she was a defensive standout for Northwestern. But Elliott became a Wildcat assistant two years after her 2007 graduation, was associate head coach last season and last March, at 27, became the first head coach at Colorado. Her team will make its competitive debut in 2014.

"Sometimes players are a little intimidated about going into coaching," Amonte Hiller said. "We try to make them understand how rewarding it can be to mentor young people and give back to the game."

Amonte Hiller and her husband, Scott, a volunteer assistant coach as well as a practicing attorney, meet with each player a couple of years before graduation to begin discussing their post-Northwestern plans. Those who express interest in coaching get a chance to do it at her summer lacrosse camps. And they can count on having recommendations from both Hillers when they begin looking for jobs.

"Kelly and Scotty do an incredible job talking to athletic directors and senior women's administrators and putting their names behind their players," Munday said. "Without that, I don't think any of us would be in the positions we are."

Haden said Amonte Hiller told him Munday was "a ferocious competitor and very good evaluator of talent."

"Because Kelly has such a great reputation, those of us beginning programs are willing to take a calculated risk on people she recommends," Haden said. "It's like hiring Bear Bryant's assistants or Bill Belichick's assistants. Kelly has that kind of aura about her and her program."

Given USC's commitment to adding lacrosse to the 23 national titles its women's teams have won in other sports since 1976, Munday already is recruiting against Amonte Hiller. And given how fast Northwestern reached the top, it may not be long before the teams become formidable rivals.

"Kelly tells us we can do things like that," Munday said. "Reaching for the stars is something we were about at Northwestern from the beginning and what we are about at USC now."

Pat Haden may need to add championship rings to that budget soon.

phersh@tribune.com

Twitter @olyphil

 

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