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A lacrosse legend’s unique seat for Olympic addition after decades driving its rise


CARY, NC - MAY 28: Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller of the Northwestern Wildcats huddles with her team before the game against the Boston College Eagles during the Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship held at WakeMed Soccer Park on May 28, 2023 in Cary, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Nobody has seen women’s lacrosse grow like Kelly Amonte Hiller, who in 22 years at the helm of Northwestern has won eight NCAA titles.

She may be asked often to recount where she was when she learned her sport was added to the Olympics for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. She can tell a unique story about that, too.

Amonte Hiller was at the USA Lacrosse headquarters in Maryland two weekends ago, leading a squad against her Wildcats. She doubles as coach of the U.S. women’s under-20 team, and on that weekend that national team played Northwestern in an exhibition.

Earlier that week, LA 2028 organizers announced they proposed lacrosse, among other sports, be added for their edition of the Games (which is now allowed under recent reforms).

On a Friday, the day before Northwestern played the U.S. U20s, the International Olympic Committee Executive Board approved that proposal.

Those sports were officially added the following Monday by IOC membership. By then, Amonte Hiller was back home in Illinois.

“There’s so many people that have dreamed about this,” she said of her initial reaction. “You always dream of being an Olympian, even if your sport isn’t in the Olympics.”

Amonte Hiller didn’t have to describe the players’ reactions. They were posted for all to see.

“If you went on social media,” she said, “it was like every person that plays lacrosse was Instagramming about us being in the Olympics.”

Marc Riccio, the USA Lacrosse CEO, told the U.S. U20s that there’s a good chance that some of them will be on the Olympic team in five years.

The on ramp will be long, both in time and, Amonte Hiller hopes, development in women’s lacrosse. It has progressed some since she won two NCAA titles as a player at Maryland in the mid-1990s and played in three World Cups for the national team.

Significant TV exposure and professional opportunities birthed. Now, a spot in the Olympics. Still, Amonte Hiller said that it’s currently a financial challenge for players to continue in the sport beyond college.

“It’s really for the love of the game, and they don’t want their careers to end and, maybe, they’re training to stay on that U.S. national team to play in a World Cup,” she said. “But now that it’s an Olympic sport, the support I’m sure is going to increase.”

Lacrosse was previously part of the Games in 1904 and 1908, plus in 1928, 1932 and 1948 as an unofficial demonstration sport, but none of those included women.

The game played in Los Angeles in 2028 — sixes, drawn from the number of players on a smaller field at one time for each team — differs from the NCAA format with 12 women.

Amonte Hiller compared it to another sport with which she has a familiarity.

“It’s so fast-paced. It’s very similar to ice hockey where you’re just up and down [the field], a lot of people coming on and off,” said Amonte Hiller, whose older brother Tony was a forward on 1998 and 2002 Olympic teams. “You have to have the ability to play both ends of the field, pretty much, and be really versatile.”

Traditionally, host nations receive automatic spots in Olympic team events.

USA Lacrosse has time to announce how it decides its roster, including staff. Amonte Hiller noted that other current national team coaches also double as college coaches.

Does she have interest in becoming the first U.S. Olympic women’s lacrosse head coach?

“All I can say is that I have a lot of pride in the USA program,” she answered. “I want to see the USA be very, very successful. So if I can help in any way, I’ll absolutely make that happen.”