Celebrated Seniors

Wade Askew

BY WADE ASKEWTHE DAILY NORTHWESTERN

Kristen Kjellman, arguably the best player in the nation, was barely recruited to play Division-I lacrosse. The same goes for many of her Class of 2007 teammates who have helped build a team on the brink of its third national title.

The final leg of the race for that championship begins Sunday, when No. 1 Northwestern (17-1) faces Patriot League champion Holy Cross (13-5). Coincidentally, Holy Cross is in Worcester, Mass., only about an hour away from Kjellman’s hometown of Westwood.

But to play D-I lacrosse, Kjellman, like four more of her senior teammates from the Northeast, had to relocate to Evanston. It was there that coach Kelly Amonte Hiller transformed a group of athletes into premier lacrosse players.

“Kelly believed in us, and I think we were more recruited on our athleticism rather than our lacrosse skill,” said senior defender Lindsay Finocchiaro of Fairfield, N.J. “She showed us how to play, basically. She took raw athletes and showed us how to play.”

The class has gone on to become the winningest in NU history, posting a staggering 73-5 record.

The group was a part of both the program’s first tournament team since returning to varsity status and the school’s first back-to-back championship team. It has, in short, helped turn an upstart into a dynasty.

No player has been more instrumental in that success than Kjellman, last year’s Tewaaraton Trophy winner and one of five finalists this year. Not many recruiters around the country could have predicted Kjellman’s transformation into the nation’s premier player.

But Amonte Hiller, who made a habit out of believing in her underdog recruits – and making them believe in themselves – knew the type of player Kjellman would become after leading a camp that Kjellman attended in Massachusetts.

“Because I had her at camp, and I played against her at camp, I knew exactly what she was going to be the day I played against her,” Amonte Hiller said. “She’s probably one of the only campers, when I was in my prime, that could stay with me, and you could just see her competitiveness. And I knew that once she got on our campus, she would be dynamite.”

Kjellman and the other seniors did not necessarily share the same foresight four years ago. While they believed Amonte Hiller when she told them that they would win a national championship, they could not have imagined the possibility for three.

Now, after having transformed from the role of underdog to top dog, NU enters the NCAA tournament with experience and focus. Asked what was the difference between entering the tournament as freshmen and now, senior Aly Josephs of Reisterstown, Md., said simply, “Now we know what it takes.”

But in addition to taking advantage of their experience, the seniors will cherish their final days as players on the NU lacrosse team with a youthful exuberance. As defender Annie Elliott, one of two seniors from the Midwest, said, it’s just plain fun to play.

“For me it’s just exciting,” Elliott said. “Everyday you get to play and you get to hang out with 30 of your best friends and do something you love – it’s just exciting.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]