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Northwestern University

Northwestern University Wildcats Athletics
1501 Central Street Evanston, IL 60208
Division 1 Illinois Midwest
Private Medium National competitor

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Kelly Amonte Hiller

Already a legend in the game as a player, Kelly Amonte Hiller has established herself as one of the sport's greatest coaches after building Northwestern Lacrosse into a dynasty. In May of 2005, Amonte Hiller etched her name in the annals of college athletics when she guided her upstart Northwestern team to an undefeated season and the first NCAA Lacrosse Championship ever won by a team outside the Eastern Time Zone, the first of an incredible eight national titles.


After resurrecting a Northwestern program that had not competed at the varsity level in more than 10 years, Amonte Hiller led the Wildcats to the national semifinals 10 years in a row from 2005 to 2014 and tied an NCAA record with eight consecutive title game appearances in the process. Northwestern's dominance since its breakthrough 2005 season has been nothing short of legendary. Since 2004, Northwestern has gone 53-11 (.828) in the NCAA Tournament, making Amonte Hiller the winningest coach in Tournament history.


Along the way, Amonte Hiller has produced the nation's Tewaaraton Award winner in six different seasons as well as the Honda Sports Award recipient on eight occasions. Additionally Northwestern has featured 65 IWLCA All-Americans and won a total of 12 IWLCA positional Player of the Year awards (three attacker, five midfielder and four defender).


Northwestern's rapid rise to national prominence under Amonte Hiller — particularly in an area of the country rarely associated with women's lacrosse — has caught the eyes of many, in and out of lacrosse. In 2011, ESPN The Magazine named Amonte Hiller one of the 20 best recruiters across all college sports, joining the likes of other multiple-time NCAA champion coaches Mike Krzyzewski of Duke (men's basketball) and Anson Dorrance of North Carolina (women's soccer). In 2012, the Big Ten Network profiled the NU head coach as one of 12 Big Ten coaching icons in the conference's history, putting her in the company of Big Ten legends such as Bobby Knight (Indiana), Bo Schembechler (Michigan) and Dan Gable (Iowa).


In February of 2018, Amonte Hiller was announced as the head coach of United States Lacrosse Women's U19 team, where she guided the United States to a gold medal at the 2019 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Women's U19 World Championship in Peterborough, Ontario. Four other Wildcats also found their way onto the team: Madison Doucette, Elle Hansen, Izzy Scane and Greta Stahl.


Despite the abbreviated 2020 season, Amonte Hiller was able to reach her 300th career win, becoming only the eighth Division I women's lacrosse coach to do so. The win came at the hands of a 25-18 thriller against No. 24 Stanford.


Summary of Seasons:

Though the 2002 season was NU's first as a varsity program, Amonte Hiller got a bit of a head start in 2001 when she handled the Wildcat club program for a year while setting about on the recruiting trail. Once NU's varsity odyssey began in earnest in 2002, Amonte Hiller's roster featured 15 freshmen and four sophomores — two of whom had never played lacrosse — but fought its way to a 5-10 record in their first varsity season since 1992.


The 2003 season saw more improvement, both in record and on the field. Despite the unexpected loss of the top returning scorer from the previous year due to injury, the 'Cats jumped out to a 5-0 start en route to an 8-8 campaign. Along the way, they collected their first win over a ranked opponent (8-6 over No. 19 Connecticut on April 6) and earned a spot in the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) poll.


Northwestern's meteoric rise continued in 2004 as the Wildcats finished 15-3, stood as high as sixth in the IWLCA national coaches poll and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time under Amonte Hiller. Northwestern hosted a first-round game against Notre Dame, beating the Irish 10-8 for their second win of the season over their rivals from South Bend. Northwestern also made a huge step in the ALC, posting a 5-1 league mark and claiming a share of the conference title after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll. NU led the ALC in scoring offense and scoring defense, and Kristen Kjellman was named ALC Rookie of the Year and joined by five teammates on the All-ALC teams.


Following the 2004 season, Amonte Hiller was named National Coach of the Year by both Inside Lacrosse and WomensLacrosse.com, as well as Coach of the Year in the IWLCA Mid-Atlantic Region and in the American Lacrosse Conference.


Then came the magical 2005 season which sent her original recruits out as seniors exactly the way they wanted to: as national champions. The Wildcats became the first team outside the Eastern time zone to earn a No. 1 ranking in the IWLCA poll in late March, and a little more than two months later defended that ranking in the NCAA Championship by defeating Mount St. Mary's, Princeton, Dartmouth and Virginia en route to the first NCAA lacrosse title at any level, male or female, by a team outside the Eastern Time Zone. In the end, Northwestern finished 21-0 overall and was the only undefeated team in NCAA Division I in 2005.


The undefeated 'Cats led the nation in scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin and draw controls per game, again earning Amonte Hiller IWLCA National and Mid-Atlantic Region Coach of the Year honors. Northwestern rolled to its first outright ALC crown with a 6-0 record and did so in dominant fashion, setting a record for goals in a conference season (98) while shattering the conference mark for fewest goals allowed (28). In the post-season, Northwestern was honored with the Player of the Year (Kristen Kjellman) and the Goalie of the Year (Ashley Gersuk), and Amonte Hiller was named Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season.


Entering 2006 as defending national champions, the Wildcats went 20-1 en route to their second straight title. The 'Cats won the ALC again and Kjellman became the first player from a non-East Coast school to win the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation's top player.


Despite entering the 2007 season with a target on their backs, Amonte Hiller's Wildcats were up to the task, going 21-1, winning their fourth-straight ALC crown and third NCAA title in the process. Kjellman took home her second Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation's top player, becoming the first player to win the award twice. The Wildcats shattered NCAA records in 2007 with 361 goals, 168 assists, 529 points and a 16.4 goals-per-game average. Amonte Hiller picked up her fourth-straight ALC Coach of the Year honor, Kjellman took home Player of the Year accolades and Morgan Lathrop was named Goalie of the Year. Amonte Hiller had six players receive All-America status, the most of any school and tying the program record for the most All-Americans in a single season.


If there was any doubt remaining, Northwestern solidified its status as a dynasty in 2008 by posting a 21-1 record, a fifth-straight American Lacrosse Conference title and a remarkable fourth consecutive national championship. Amonte Hiller eclipsed the 100-victory mark in just her 123rd game on the Wildcats sideline and watched as Hannah Nielsen became the second Wildcat to take home the Tewaaraton Trophy. In addition to once again earning IWLCA National Coach of the Year honors, Amonte Hiller was named Lacrosse Magazine's Person of the Year and earned induction into both the Maryland Athletics and Italian-American Sports Halls of Fame in 2008.


In 2009, Amonte Hiller led the Wildcats on a Drive for Five that ended in an undefeated 23-0 season, culminating with a 21-7 rout of North Carolina in the NCAA championship game. Northwestern once again set NCAA records for points (570) and goals (407) in a season, while leading the nation in scoring offense (17.6 goals per game), scoring margin (10.83 goals per game) and draw controls (16.91 per game) and ending the year with the nation's second-ranked defense (6.83 goals per game). Another successful season brought in a handful of accolades for the Wildcats. Nielsen was named the Tewaaraton Trophy winner for the second-straight season, marking a fourth straight year the award was handed out to a Wildcat. She was also named the Lacrosse Honda Sports Award winner for the second time as well as the Player of the Year by a handful of organizations. Six Wildcats were honored as IWLCA All-Americans and Amonte Hiller was named the IWLCA Coach of the Year for the second-straight year and third time in her career.


In 2011 — a year in which it began the season without the title of defending national champion for the first time since 2005 — Northwestern reeled off 12-straight victories to open its schedule before suffering consecutive midseason losses that prompted Amonte Hiller to reinvent her team. After that, the 'Cats would capture the ALC Tournament by avenging one of those losses against top-seeded Florida, and continued to peak entering NCAA Tournament play. On championship weekend, Northwestern downed No. 3 North Carolina in the semifinals, 11-10, and then used a flawless defensive game plan to hold off top-ranked Maryland in the championship game, 8-7, avenging its 2010 title game loss to the Terps and bringing the trophy back to Evanston.


Following the season, Shannon Smith became the third player under Amonte Hiller to win the Tewaaraton Trophy as well as the Lacrosse Honda Sports award as the nation's top player. Additionally, Amonte Hiller coached freshman Alyssa Leonard -- who was in just her third year playing lacrosse -- to ALC Rookie of the Year honors and sophomore Taylor Thornton to IWLCA Defender of the Year laurels.

With a strong cast of returners in 2012, the Wildcats again played their best lacrosse down the stretch, rallying from a defeat to Florida in the ALC Championship game thanks to a renewed emphasis on the draw circle. Returning to Stony Brook as the site of finals competition, NU edged Maryland and Syracuse on championship weekend in a pair of two-goal victories, keeping the trophy in Evanston for the seventh time in eight years while Amonte Hiller took home her fifth IWLCA National Coach of the Year award.


The Wildcats returned to championship weekend for a ninth consecutive year in 2013, with senior All-Americans Taylor Thornton, Erin Fitzgerald and Gabriella Flibotte leading the charge. NU earned a three-way share of the American Lacrosse Conference regular season title before winning the ALC Tournament for the sixth time in seven years.


Amonte Hiller and the Wildcats took a much different route to completing their decade-long run of semifinal berths in 2014, enduring five one-goal defeats prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament en route to the event's No. 5 seed. That left Northwestern needing a road win over No. 4 Florida in the quarterfinals to reach championship weekend — a victory that came in dramatic fashion when NU topped the Gators, 12-11, in overtime, again avenging two prior losses to UF. The end of 2014 brought with it the conclusion of Amonte Hiller's mentorship of All-American Alyssa Leonard, who graduated as the NCAA's all-time leader in career draw controls, shattering the previous mark by more than 100.


In 2015, a new era in women's lacrosse came into the fold: the Big Ten began a league of their own. Northwestern started their conference experience with Selena Lasota. Lasota's finesse stick-work — representative of the style of play of box lacrosse — stunned the Wildcats' opponents during their slate. After the season, Lasota was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year as well as earning numerous other national honors, including IWLCA Second-Team All-American, after leading the conference in goals while ranking second in points. She set the Northwestern single-season first year scoring record with 69 goals to lead all first years nationally. In the summer between her freshman and sophomore year, Lasota was a co-captain of the gold medal-winning Canadian U-19 team at the FIL Women's World Championship.


The Wildcats battled through a series of injuries and adversity during the 2016 season to finish 11-10 overall and earn their 11th-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Teetering near a .500 record all season, Amonte Hiller had the ’Cats primed for a postseason run when they hosted the 2016 Big Ten Tournament at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium. The hosts opened with back-to-back wins over Michigan, 20-5, and No. 10 Penn State, 9-6, to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament before narrowly falling to top-ranked Maryland in the Big Ten final, 12-9.


The 2017 season saw the 'Cats go 11-10 for the second-consecutive season. After a crucial 12-11 victory over No. 5 Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, Northwestern returned to the NCAA Tournament once again. Amonte Hiller got the Wildcats past Albany, 15-7, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, before falling to No. 8 Stony Brook in the second round.


In 2018, Northwestern reemerged as a dominant force. The team had its best season since 2013, earning a record of 15-6. After starting the season 5-3, Amonte Hiller led her team to eight-straight wins and a 13th-consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. At the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern took down Richmond, 24-18, and No. 7 Towson, 21-17, before falling to No. 2 North Carolina in the quarterfinals.


Amonte Hiller then led the Wildcats back to the NCAA semifinals in 2019 for the first time since 2014 with a 16-5 overall mark and a 5-1 record in Big Ten play. She was named the Big Ten Co-Coach of the year as she led the Wildcats to the program's first ever Big Ten Tournament title, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. In the 2019 season, Amonte Hiller helped the ‘Cats earn two Big Ten player of the year awards, a Tewaaraton finalist, a Honda Sport Award and an Elite 90 award.


Following the cancelation of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wildcats returned on a mission in 2021. Amonte Hiller led the Wildcats to a 15-1 season in 2021 that saw the program reach the national semifinals. The campaign was one for the record books as Northwestern posted a perfect 11-0 regular season (vs. only Big Ten teams) en route to capturing the program's first-ever Big Ten regular season title and conference tournament championship.


Named the 2021 Big Ten and IWLCA West/Midwest Region Coach of the Year, she guided Northwestern to historic offensive numbers as the Wildcats led the country in scoring (20.12), points per game (28.75), draw controls per game (19.19), shots per game (39.81) and shots on goal per game (30.06), while NU's 9.25 scoring margin was the second-best nationally. The 20.12 goals per game is an NCAA record. Amonte Hiller mentored Izzy Scane, who was a Tewaaraton Award finalist and 2021 Big Ten Attacker of the Year, as she broke the NCAA record for goals per game (6.12) and the Northwestern single-season record for goals with 98.


For the third straight season the NCAA Tournament was held, the Wildcats reached the semifinals in 2022. NU came within one goal of advancing to the finals, falling in the semifinals to No. 1 North Carolina 16-15 in Baltimore, Md. NU recorded three home NCAA Tournament victories to reach the semifinals, which included a 15-4 drubbing of No. 4 Syracuse. Amonte Hiller improved her record to 29-0 in home NCAA Tournament contests. Lauren Gilbert, Jill Girardi and Ally Palermo were named IWLCA All-Americans and Girardi set the single-season program record with 182 draw controls. First-year Samantha White also took home the program's third Big Ten Freshman of the Year award.


Amonte Hiller finally returned to the winner's circle in 2023, hoisting Northwestern's eightth NCAA Championship trophy and first since 2012. After three straight NCAA semifinal appearances, the 'Cats finally broke through to the championship game with a triumphant 15-7 win over Denver, who held led the nation in scoring defense. With the monkey off their back, the Wildcats ran into the championship game and bowled over Boston College 18-6 -- the greatest margin of victory in an NCAA tournament game since Northwestern's rout of North Carolina in 2009.


The Wildcats were led to a 21-1 record, their best result since 2009 when they went 23-0, by the nation's leading scorer Izzy Scane, who also owns Northwestern's season scoring and career scoring record. Scane became Amonte Hiller's sixth Tewaraaton Award winner, eighth Honda Sport Award Winner and twelfth IWCLA Player of the Year. Amonte Hiller produced three additional IWCLA All-Americans in Erin Coykendall, Hailey Rhatigan and Samantha White. First-year stand out Madison Taylor took home the program's second consecutive and fourth Big Ten Freshman of the Year award after netting 53 goals and grabbing 56 draw controls.


Playing Career:

Amonte Hiller's stunning success as the architect of the Northwestern Lacrosse program comes on the heels of one of the most outstanding playing careers the sport has ever seen. The Massachusetts native won back-to-back national player of the year awards while starring for the University of Maryland, and continued her career as a standout for the United States National Team for nearly a decade. In 2012, Amonte Hiller reached the pinnacle of her sport when she was inducted into the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame in recognition of her achievements as a player.


While at Maryland, Amonte Hiller was a four-time All-American in lacrosse under former NU head coach Cindy Timchal, ending her career as the school's all-time record holder for career goals (187), assists (132) and points (319, 70 more than second place). In addition, Amonte Hiller also earned All-America accolades in soccer for the Terrapins and was named the ACC Female Athlete of the Year in 1996 for all sports. She graduated from Maryland in 1996 with a bachelor's degree in speech communication.


In 2002, Amonte Hiller was named to the ACC's 50th Anniversary Women's Lacrosse Team. In 2006, she was named to the NCAA Division I 25th Anniversary Women's Lacrosse Team. In 2000, Amonte Hiller was ranked 21st by Sports Illustrated on its list of Massachusetts' Greatest Sports Figures of the 20th century, a list that included names such as Rocky Marciano, Doug Flutie and Patrick Ewing.


In the four years before her arrival at Northwestern, Amonte Hiller held three different assistant coaching posts at the collegiate level. During the 1997 and 1998 seasons, she served as the assistant women's lacrosse coach at Brown. In 1999, Amonte Hiller served in a similar capacity at the University of Massachusetts. In 2000, again as an assistant, she helped guide Boston University to its first top-10 ranking and an NCAA Tournament appearance.


Personal:

Amonte Hiller has three siblings, including Tony who was a former captain of the Chicago Blackhawks in the National Hockey League. He also played the silver medal-winning United States team at the 2002 Olympic Games.


Kelly resides in Evanston with her husband and assistant coach, Scott, and daughters Harlee and Lew.

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Scott Hiller

Scott Hiller has been a part of the Northwestern lacrosse program since 2001 and was named to his current position of assistant coach in 2020. Hiller, the husband of head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, was previously the volunteer assistant coach and involved in a myriad of responsibilities with the program.


Alongside Amonte Hiller, Hiller has helped lead the Wildcats to eight national championships -- most recently a dominant 18-6 win over Boston College for the 2023 national title.


Throughout his coaching career, Hiller has been involved with both men's and women's professional lacrosse. He served as the co-president and general manager of the Washington Bayhawks of Major League Lacrosse (MLL) after his dual role as head coach and general manager for the 2006 and 2007 seasons.


Prior to coaching the Bayhawks, Hiller served as the head coach of the Boston Cannons. He was a two-time selection as the league's Coach of the Year as he led the Cannons to back-to-back American Division titles and four straight playoff appearances. He guided Boston to a 10-2 record in 2005, tying Baltimore for the best regular season mark in league history. During his four-year tenure with the Cannons, Hiller compiled a 32-18 regular season record.


In his inaugural 2002 campaign, Hiller led the team to a 7-7 record and was named Coach of the Year. In 2003, the Cannons went 7-5 and secured their third consecutive postseason berth. The following season, Boston won a then team-record eight games and clinched the franchise's first American Division title.


Before joining the Cannons, Hiller spent eight seasons as assistant head coach for the Harvard men's lacrosse team. Prior to that, he had an outstanding playing career that included a U.S. World Team appearance in 1994.


Hiller graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1990. He is third on the career points list at UMass, where he was one of just two players to be named All-American all four years. He was captain of the Minutemen as a senior and was inducted into the Massachusetts Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010. Hiller graduated from Suffolk Law School in the spring of 2001.


Scott resides in Evanston with his wise and head coach, Kelly, and daughters Harlee and Lew.

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Alexis Venechanos

After serving as an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats from 2004-06 and helping the 'Cats to a pair of national titles (2005, 2006) and a 56-4 record, Alexis Venechanos returned to Northwestern ahead of the 2023 season and immediately impacted the program, helping the 'Cats to their eighth national title and a 21-1 record.


During the last two seasons of Venechanos' first stint at NU, the 'Cats compiled an impressive 41-1 record and won back-to-back national championships. Under Venechanos' tutelage, Morgan Lathrop and Ashley Gersuk flourished as goalkeepers and NU's defense posted top five national marks in scoring defense and scoring margin.


Since departing NU after the 2006 season, Venechanos enjoyed a 15-year run as a collegiate head coach at UMass, Ohio State and Otterbein. Since 2021, the Yorktown, N.Y. native served as the associate athletic director and head girls lacrosse coach at Lake Forest Academy.


Venechanos is no stranger to the Big Ten Conference and as head coach, guided Ohio State to an 86-73 record (.550) from 2011-19. The Buckeyes appeared in two NCAA Tournaments (2014, 2015) during her leadership and finished as the league's runner-up in 2015. In 2014, OSU tallied its second-most single-season wins in program history (13) and qualified for its first NCAA postseason in 11 years.


Prior to her arrival in Columbus, Venechanos spent four seasons as head coach at UMass where she inherited a program in 2006 that had not been to the NCAA tournament in over 20 years. Within three seasons, she took the Minutewomen back to the postseason for the first time in a quarter century. They went on to make a second consecutive NCAA trip in 2010, punctuating a career already marked by a pair of Atlantic 10 championship tournament titles (2009, 2010), an Atlantic 10 regular-season title (2009) and three appearances in the A-10 Tournament championship game. Venechanos registered a record of 36-38 in Amherst, including double-digit win totals in her last two seasons.


Her most recent stint as a collegiate head coach was at Otterbein, a Division III institution located in Westerville, Ohio, where Venechanos led the Cardinals to a 13-8 record over two COVID-19 altered seasons (2020, 2021). In 2021, the Cardinals finished fourth in the Ohio Athletic Conference standings and hosted an OAC Tournament game for the first time in program history.


Venechanos was a decorated three-year starting goalie for Maryland, which claimed consecutive NCAA titles in 2000 and 2001 to begin her career. The Terrapins were a perfect 22-0 during her first year as a starter, won three ACC trophies and then made the NCAA Semifinals in 2003 when Venechanos was named a first team All-American and National Goalkeeper of the Year. She played the second half of that senior season with a torn ACL.


Venechanos holds a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Maryland. She and her wife, Dr. Sarah Taylor, have three daughters; Olympia, and twins Theodora and Cecilia.

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