Lacrosse: Leonard, Frank deadly on the draw

Colin Becht

When Kelly Amonte Hiller talks about draw controls, she speaks with the knowledge of an expert. She took the draws for Maryland in her playing days, earning NCAA Player of the Year accolades in her junior and senior seasons.

So when Amonte Hiller heaps praise on a player for her superb ability on the draws, her compliments mean more than typical coach-speak.

“She’s a real strong kid,” Amonte Hiller said of freshman midfielder Alyssa Leonard. “Some kids have trouble against people that are strong, so she’s got like really the whole package. She can go up against strong kids. She can finesse it. She can get anything out of the air.”

Leonard has tough shoes to fill considering the impressive legacy of success that Amonte Hiller-led teams have had on the draws. The Cats led the nation in draw controls in 2005, 2009 and 2010.

Still, with possibly two more games to play, Leonard already has the third-most draw controls in a season at Northwestern with 84. If she continues at her current pace, Leonard will easily set the school record for career draw controls. In fact, she could surpass the NCAA record as well.

“The thing that sets her apart from some of the other players that have done it for us, like Danielle (Spencer) and Courtney (Koester) and Kristen Kjellman, is her hands,” Amonte Hiller said. “She can grab anything out of the air. So not only is she good at the draw, but anything that’s in the vicinity of her, she’s going to get. To have that quality in addition to the ability to be able to facilitate the draw is just outstanding.”

The favorable comparison to Kjellman, Spencer and Koester, NU’s three greatest draw control specialists, is praise indeed considering those three rank fifth, 10th and 12th in NCAA history, respectively.

Leonard even got the chance to go up against one of her record book rivals, Spencer, in an alumni game this past fall.

“She tore up Danielle, so that gives you some perspective,” Amonte Hiller said, adding that despite her own success on draws during her lacrosse career, she’d be no match for Leonard. “I’m washed up so she’d probably crush me.”

Possibly the most incredible feature of Leonard’s prowess on draws is that she is only in her third season playing lacrosse.

“She just really picks things up quickly,” Amonte Hiller said.

That makes Leonard not unlike Koester, who came to NU in 2001 having never played lacrosse before.

“Alyssa’s kind of the same way (as Koester),” Amonte Hiller said. “She came in with a little bit of knowledge, but I think she’s really blossomed in only her first year.”

Leonard said Amonte Hiller’s emphasis on taking copious draws in practice has helped her have immediate success on draws.

“Really it’s just a lot of repetition she has us doing and just focusing on ourselves more than focusing on the other team,” Leonard said. “I know she can teach me her ways, and she’s done it when you look at our alumni.”

Fortunately for the Wildcats, Leonard’s prowess arose at the same time that NU already had an effective draw specialist. Junior Alex Frank ranks seventh all-time at NU in draw controls.

“Alex is more of a finesse draw person,” Amonte Hiller said. “It’s kind of good to have two different styles because you never know what you’re going to go up against. Sometimes one player would be better than another depending on who you’re facing.”

Leonard said Frank has pushed her to improve and helps her prepare for in-game situations.

“She challenges me as far as doing what the other team is going to do,” Leonard said. “She always goes hard on me.”

Amonte Hiller supervises the two in practice to provide specific coaching to each.

“They’re learning from me,” Amonte Hiller said. “I have a specific style that I teach, and each player is different, but they’re all kind of subscribing to the same philosophy.”

Leonard said both she and Frank are pullers on draws, meaning their backs face the goal NU is defending while taking the draw. Pushers face towards their own goal.

Friday’s matchup against North Carolina in the NCAA semifinals should present an interesting challenge for Leonard and Frank as the Tar Heels used seven different draw takers in their 16-13 win over Loyola on Saturday.

“We’re usually doing something different for every draw against every different drawer from our opposing team,” Leonard said. “So it’s kind of hard to focus on one thing when we’re dealt so many different things.”

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