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U20 usa tryout photo

Kelly Amonte Hiller Searches for Second Consecutive U20 Gold

July 10, 2023
Jake Epstein
Mason Perricone

SPARKS, Md. — Sporting a bright orange cap to block Saturday’s sweltering sun, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller intently watched a group of U.S. U20 hopefuls challenge one of the tryout evaluators on the draw.

One by one, high school All-Americans and college stars stepped up to the plate, vying to prove their possessional prowess. But this particular opponent made the draw her domain during the back end of her NCAA career.

As the evaluator effortlessly collected the ball out of the air, Amonte Hiller peered toward U20 assistant coach Tim McCormack, who smiled as his recent Johns Hopkins assistant coaching hire, Jill Girardi, displayed what she does best.

It’s a sight that Amonte Hiller witnessed routinely when Girardi corralled 183 draw controls to set Northwestern’s single-season record in 2022. Now, Amonte Hiller tasked her former draw dynamo to help her narrow down the field of 98 invitees from 17 states into the training team selections for the 2024 World Lacrosse Women’s U20 Championship in Hong Kong.

USA Lacrosse announced the 42-player training team on Sunday after the three-day tryout.

With players ranging from rising high school seniors to incoming college juniors, Amonte Hiller said her staff wasn’t sure what to expect over the tryout period, but the talent level blew them away just after Friday’s opening horn.

“The younger players are rising to the level, [and] the older players are showing their experience and talent,” Amonte Hiller said. “It’s really cool to see where our sport is going in this country.”

Capturing the country’s fifth junior team gold in 2019, Amonte Hiller prided her team on balance and working as a unit. Her squad bought into her team-first mantra from the jump, breezing through the tournament, before trouncing Canada in a 13-3 championship clincher.

Fresh off snapping an 11-year national title drought at Northwestern, Amonte Hiller holds the admiration of much of the sport’s rising generation, including USA Lacrosse High School Girls’ Player of the Year Chloe Humphrey, who was invited to join the training team on Sunday.

“I think every player here would love to learn from her,” said Humphrey, who will enroll at North Carolina this fall following a standout career at Darien High School. “Just taking everything [coaches] say to heart and implementing that into your game is so important at an event like this.”

Although Amonte Hiller said that several gold-medal caliber teams could be built from the player pool, she’s looking to build on 2019’s success and cement a squad filled with players who “want to grow together.”

For the three-time gold medalist — once as a coach and twice as a senior-team player — something special arises whenever the nation’s top players shed their college colors and don the red, white and blue.

“You have all these rivalries when you play at the collegiate level, but when you go at the U.S. level, you realize you have a lot of commonalities and forge relationships,” Amonte Hiller said. “That’s the best part of [being part of the U.S. team].”

As Tar Heels, Wildcats, Terrapins, Eagles and many others team up in drills or evening scrimmages, stick taps, high fives and raucous cheers exchange at any moment.

While these players fight to win every ground ball and hold nothing back once the whistle launches them into action, a heightened sense of camaraderie has formed in just a few days.

“There’s truly nothing like putting on the red, white and blue and representing what this country is and all the great freedoms we are afforded every day,” Amonte Hiller said. “To really feel that you’ve been at the highest level of your sport is very fleeting, and all the kids here should be extremely proud.”