After nine years at Northwestern, coach Cindy Timchal joined Maryland in 1991 and took the Terrapins to the national championship game.
To maintain a place in the top echelon of college lacrosse, Timchal emphasized recruiting top high school talent to College Park. One of these players was Kelly Amonte Hiller from Thayer Academy in Massachusetts, who visited during the 1991-92 academic year. She was hosted by then-junior Kerstin Kimel.
Kimel’s coach told her that the recruit considering Maryland was an important one. As a result, a “specific plan” was made for Amonte Hiller’s visit, including a tour around campus and introductions to team members.
Amonte Hiller would eventually commit to the Terrapins, who defeated Harvard to win the 1992 national title.
Following program-defining playing careers in College Park, Amonte Hiller and Kimel entered the coaching ranks and now lead two of the top programs in college lacrosse. On Saturday, Amonte Hiller’s No. 2 Northwestern (15-0, 11-0 Big Ten) defeated Kimel’s No. 7 Duke (11-8, 4-6 ACC) 22-10 in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, booking a trip to the Final Four.
The two coaches, whose teams met on opposing sidelines for the 21st time this weekend, hold a lot of respect for one another as their squads clashed for a shot at a national title.
“She was the captain of my team my freshman year, so obviously someone that you look up to,” Amonte Hiller said. “She was a great mentor.”
Amonte Hiller and Kimel played only one year together at Maryland in 1993, a campaign that ended with a loss in the national semifinals against Princeton. However, Kimel said Amonte Hiller made a strong first impression.
During the season, Kimel — a two-time All American and the NCAA National Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 — was impressed with Amonte Hiller’s work ethic and talent on the draw control. She remembers firsthand the then-freshman’s tenacious effort at practice to improve besides her teammates.
“I always considered myself to be someone who was really fit and into the running piece of what we were doing,” Kimel said. “Kelly was always right there with me. She was just a hustler.”
According to Kimel, Amonte Hiller was one of the players to kickstart the next generation of Maryland lacrosse. The Terrapins made the national championship for eight straight seasons and earned seven consecutive titles from 1995-2001.
Helping lead Maryland to national championships in 1995 and 1996, Amonte Hiller earned NCAA Division I Player of the Year during those seasons. She also finished her career as the program’s leader in goals, assists and points. For her performance, the four-time All American earned a spot on the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 50th Anniversary Women’s Lacrosse Team. Joining her on the squad was Kimel.
“If you look at the college coaching world, there’s a lot of us from Maryland,” Kimel said. “We were all accustomed to winning and we were all accustomed to being successful, but we also were accustomed to working hard and having that relentless spirit.”
This mentality was shown when Amonte Hiller and Kimel parlayed their successful careers into coaching positions. Kimel served as the head coach of Davidson in 1994 before heading to Durham two years later, while Amonte Hiller worked at Brown, Massachusetts and Boston University ahead of her arrival to coach the Wildcats’ varsity team in 2002.
Both coaches took over programs in their first season — the Blue Devils’ women’s lacrosse program was created in 1996 and Northwestern restarted its team after a ten-year hiatus. They’ve remained there ever since as their squads have turned into postseason contenders.
From 2005-12, the Wildcats won seven national championships in an NCAA-record eight consecutive title appearances under Amonte Hiller and have reached 17 Final Fours. Kimel has guided Duke to seven national semifinals.
Amonte Hiller said she enjoys the competition against her former college teammate, who she has faced almost every season at the helm of NU. The Cats have defeated Kimel’s Blue Devils in 17 of their 21 matchups, including all 10 contests in Evanston.
“Every time we play, it’s always a battle,” Amonte Hiller said. “It’s always exciting. They have done really well over the last couple of years. We have a lot of respect for them.”
Amonte Hiller and Kimel share more connections on the field, such as Duke attacker Maddie Jenner playing for the U-19 United States National Team coached by Amonte Hiller. However, they have some similarities off of it too.
Each coach comes from an athletic family. Amonte Hiller’s brother Tony is the former captain of the Chicago Blackhawks and Kimel’s parents and siblings all played sports in college. Additionally, Kimel said both she and Amonte Hiller raised children while serving as full-time coaches.
Kimel will have to wait until next season to try to beat Amonte Hiller for the first time since 2018. However, she knows that her fellow coach is there for support in the meantime.
“I don’t think either of us have a hard time reaching out to one another or picking up the phone,” Kimel said.