May 20, 2014

Glory Days: 2005 Win Sent Northwestern On Its Way

As told to Laurel Pfhaler | | Twitter

Kristen Kjellman won a national title in 2005 with Northwestern and went on to win the 2006 and 2007 Tewaaraton Award. (John Strohsacker/

Lacrosse Magazine gathered stories of NCAA tournament lore, straight from the mouths of champions, as part of our May 2014 edition. Extended versions appear here. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 415,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

Northwestern 13, Virginia 10
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md.

Northwestern, which fielded a club team just five years earlier, beat then-reigning champ Virginia to become the first team from outside the Eastern Time Zone to win an NCAA title.

Northwestern's Kristen Kjellman, who went on to win the Tewaaraton Award in 2006 and 2007, scored five goals in the championship game. Virginia's Amy Appelt, the 2004 Tewaaraton Award winner for Virginia, was limited to one goal in the loss.

The victory marked the beginning of the Northwestern dynasty, crafted by coach Kelly Amonte Hiller by developing late bloomers or raw athletes that the nascent program became known for.

It was a turning point in women's lacrosse.

Northwestern and Virginia are back in the final four this year, in opposite semifinals.

Kristen Kjellman

It's more difficult to come back and win it a second time, and you definitely want to feel that a second time, so maybe it was easier for us to come out and win the game without any of that pressure they might have felt. I don't think there was any point we ever felt nervous. We were pumped to be in the game, and we knew we had a shot at it.

It was just incredible. I was only a sophomore, but it was especially meaningful for the seniors, because they had been building the program for a few years, and each year we had gotten a little better. It was a great reward.

I remember the celebration fondly and then getting recognized later at the White House. The press around the flip-flops some of the girls wore was pretty silly, because I thought we all looked great. But it was all in good fun, and we actually ended up raising a lot of money around it, using flip-flop pins and things like that as a fundraiser.

It just shows we were all a great bunch of athletes, and Kelly and her staff coached us so well and used our strengths to win each game. We probably weren't all better lacrosse players than Virginia, but I think we were better coached and better athletes that day.

Seeing it all come together in the national championship definitely gave me a lot of confidence for the next two years, but at the time we didn't know where it would go. To see it now as such a successful program, it's great to look back on it and know we were a part of the beginning phases.

Amy Appelt

We had played Northwestern the year prior in the NCAA quarterfinals, and it was a tough game. (Virginia won 15-11.) They were flying under the radar all year and then peaking right when they needed to, so I knew they would step up to the plate and be a competitor for a national championship that next year. We definitely were not taking them lightly.

Glory Days

LM's stories of NCAA championship lore

* 1989: Syracuse-Johns Hopkins men
* 2005: Northwestern-Virginia women

It was a well-fought game on both ends, and I think both teams were extremely well prepared. We had a chance to go into halftime up by one, but they took the lead in the last few minutes, and we had a fast-break goal called back, so that was a huge momentum swing.

This was also before the stall rules came into play, so Northwestern and Kelly Amonte Hiller did what they needed to do to win the game, and they held the ball several minutes at a time. All we could do was foul to get possession back, and they took advantage of those opportunities, which ultimately led to them winning the championship.

As a player, I didn't realize how special that was for them, because all I could think about was that I didn't win. I personally took that loss pretty hard. Now as a coach, you realized how it's broadened the game. Northwestern winning that first championship definitely opened some of the doors — it's a bicoastal sport now.

We had phenomenal lacrosse players, but they maybe had a little more jump because I remember them being more all-sport oriented. I think there's something to be said for being an athlete and picking up the game of lacrosse, because you can't teach athleticism. They did a great job recruiting that type of player that didn't have to think so much and just had to react, and then Kelly had to just take her expertise and teach her skill.

Two years after that, we ended up losing to Northwestern again in the championship, so it's definitely been tough for Virginia since then. Virginia has all the cards to be there, but there are so many good kids out there and so many good teams popping up now, it's very competitive for anyone to win.

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