Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Lacrosse: A dynasty’s pioneers

Anne O’Shaughnessy was as excited as anyone to see Northwestern lacrosse win its fourth straight national championship Sunday.

The former Wildcats lacrosse player remembers the days when the program didn’t have a Kelly Amonte Hiller running a national powerhouse.

With all the success NU has achieved in the past seven years under Amonte Hiller, it’s easy to forget that the school had a competitive program during the 1980s.

In 1982, NU started its non-scholarship varsity women’s lacrosse team. Assistant field hockey coach Cindy Timchal served as the lacrosse coach, and the team searched for players already at NU.

O’Shaughnessy fit the mold the Cats were looking for.

“They didn’t recruit for this team,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I was a slightly above-average athlete and played lacrosse in high school, but they were taking pretty much anyone who could hold a stick.”

While O’Shaughnessy said she was exaggerating a bit, the team could not offer scholarships. It was forced to pursue field hockey players and non-varsity athletes across campus. O’Shaughnessy joined NU’s first team her sophomore year.

“I played lacrosse for four years in high school,” she said. “I wasn’t recruited to play anywhere. But because this was a fledgling program, I had the chance to play Division I athletics.”

Once the Cats had their team assembled, they played a full schedule, competing against teams throughout the Midwest. They even took a Spring Break trip to Florida to compete against schools from the East Coast.

Contrary to expectations, the team did not flounder against the more established programs.

“Right out of the box, we were a team to be reckoned with,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I think it surprised a lot of people.”

O’Shaughnessy only played during the inaugural season. But because of players like her getting the program started, the Cats made noise long before national titles were won west of the Appalachians.

While the program fell short of the prominence reached during the current decade, the Cats had players garner national attention back then, including six first-team All-Americans between 1985-89.

In the heyday of the Timchal era (1982-88), the team posted a 66-27 record, outscoring its opponents by an average of 5.5 goals per game. It wasn’t until the Kristen Kjellman era that the Cats’ top-two goal scorers from the ’80s were displaced as record book leaders.

A big reason for NU’s successes was Timchal’s coaching.

“She found a lot of really good athletes for the team,” former player Lynne Bey said. “Cindy was really good at getting you in shape as well as increasing your skill of the game.”

Bey played from 1985-87, where the team went a combined 27-12. The Cats made back-to-back first round exits in 1986 and 1987.

“We absolutely won games against teams that from a skill level were better than us,” Bey said. “But we had better athletes and by the end of the game, we were able to wear them down.”

Timchal’s ability to keep the team in optimum condition, while fostering a hard work ethic, parallels Amonte Hiller’s successful coaching style. It’s no surprise considering Amonte Hiller played for Timchal at Maryland.

After the 1990 season, Timchal left Evanston for College Park, Md., where she was able to recruit and give scholarships. She eventually found Kelly Amonte, who led the Terrapins to national titles in 1995 and 1996. Maryland went on to win an NCAA record seven-straight titles from 1995-2001.

But back at NU, the program suffered. The Cats went 3-18 during the two seasons after Timchal left. In 1993, the program was reduced to the club level – replaced by women’s soccer in 1994.

“Emotionally I didn’t like it and I was saddened,” Bey said. “But by then I was at Kellogg and so from a business perspective I saw what they were doing.”

It took a decade before the program was brought back, but when it was in 2002, NU made it a scholarship sport.

Several of the team’s former players reached out to Amonte Hiller when the program returned. But with alumni scattered around the country, getting to the games in person has been difficult.

“There was an alumni game maybe last year that I tried to go to,” Bey said. “But I got caught up with business and couldn’t make it.”

Now that the team has found unbridled success, NU’s pioneers are claiming the fruits of their labors from afar. With another championship under its belt, NU will have more alumni to be proud of the part they played in bringing lacrosse to where it is now.

“There was talk when they won the first title that a virtually new program has come from nowhere,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I was like, wait, we played at the varsity level in Division I and were competitive. But it’s nice that they are back with a vengeance.”

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Lacrosse: A dynasty’s pioneers