Kjellman, Northwestern look to net third straight title

Women's College Lacrosse

May 25, 2007|By Philip Hersh | Philip Hersh,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The last thing Kristen Kjellman did as captain of her high school lacrosse team was score the winning goal in the final minute of the 2003 state championship game.

When she entered Northwestern a few months later, Kjellman was reigning Massachusetts high school Player of the Year. The first thing she hoped to do as a college player was make the travel squad and get into a few games for a team yet to have a winning record under then third-year coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.

"I just didn't know how I would match up," Kjellman said.

That doubt seems a little silly now, with Kjellman having been selected National Rookie of the Year as a freshman, National Player of the Year as a junior, and the Wildcats two victories away from her third straight NCAA title as a senior.

Northwestern (19-1) plays Pennsylvania (16-1) in one of tonight's semifinals at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, with Duke (16-3) meeting Virginia (18-3) in the other. The final is Sunday night.

"To win three would be surreal," Kjellman said.

It had seemed equally surreal to Kjellman that she started every game as a freshman, but there was a point in that season when Amonte Hiller realized confidence issues were limiting her.

"Kristen is so humble and quiet, she was reluctant to take a leadership role," Amonte Hiller said. "We told her, `This isn't a question mark; we need you to be a leader for you to be successful.'"

Motivated by that challenge, the young woman who had impressed the coach with her work ethic and willingness to punish her body also shed her natural reserve - she's about to earn her degree in communications, of all things.

"I've learned over the years to speak up when I need to and be assertive when I need to," Kjell- man said.

Yes, that was Kjellman's off-key voice ringing through the bus as teammates voted her Lax Idol in her freshman and sophomore seasons. She also scored 53 goals as a freshman and racked up the team's first five goals in the NCAA title game as a sophomore.

"The No. 1 difference was the confidence Kelly gave me," Kjellman said. "When you have the confidence to know you're good, that helps you play so much better."

How much better? Almost too much to comprehend for Wildcats sophomore Meredith Frank, her midfield running mate in high school and college.

"She was unbelievable in high school, but who knew she had this next level?" Frank said.

Kjellman's rise has matched Northwestern's. The team went 15-3 her freshman year, 21-0 the next and has gone 75-5 over her career.

"It's exciting to help a program grow," Kjellman said.

Statistics are the only immodest thing about Kjellman. She has 246 career goals, including 13 in three games against Penn - four in the Wildcats' 13-4 win this season.

"Sometimes she lulls the defender to sleep, then just puts on a burst of speed to the ball, and when she catches it, she finishes," Penn coach Karin Brower said. "She is deadly on the inside."

With 35 goals in 12 NCAA games, Kjellman is two shy of the tournament record set by Maryland's Jen Adams. Kjellman scored four when Northwestern upset top-seeded Duke, 11-10, in last year's NCAA semifinals.

Opposing defenses have focused on Kjellman most of the past two seasons. That frustrated her at first, but she learned her contributions did not have to be just offensive. It is not surprising that Kjellman had just one goal and one assist in the game she calls the best of her career, a 17-5 win over Duke this season.

"That is what is really special about her," Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. "You know she is drawing every team's best defender ... and she is still able to be consistent.

"She dominates the [midfield], and I don't know if there is a better off-the-ball attacker. She has changed the way we have to play defense."

Philip Hersh writes for the Chicago Tribune.


At Franklin Field, Philadelphia

Today's semifinals

Northwestern vs. Pennsylvania, 6 p.m.

Virginia vs. Duke, 8:45 p.m. (approx.)

Sunday's final

Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.