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By: CUBuffs.com
Annie Elliott, Chip at her introductory press conference earlier this spring.
Brooks: New Buffs 'Lax' Coach Settles In - Sort Of
Release: June 07, 2012
By: B.G. Brooks, Contributing Editor
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BOULDER - Ann Elliott arrived in Boulder last Friday and has settled in for the long run. No, wait . . . she did arrive a week ago, but as for the long or short runs, she's nowhere close to settling in. Or slowing down.

She'll call Boulder her "home base" while she zips around the country this summer pitching Colorado women's lacrosse but she likely won't settle into an apartment until August.

And for now, she's even working out of women's golf coach Anne Kelly's office until hers is completed.

But time is on Elliot's side - at least for the time being. CU, which picked Elliott to launch/coach its inaugural "lax" program, won't begin competing in the sport until the spring of 2014. And long before then, "Annie" expects to have her local residence identified, all the boxes unpacked, her staff assembled, and her first Buffs team primed and poised.

It's all heady stuff for a single 27-year-old whose time spent in the Rocky Mountain West is slim and time spent as a head coach is none. But rest assured, she couldn't have been an understudy at a better school or have had a more knowledgeable mentor.

Named CU's coach on March 26, Elliott's arrival at her new job site was delayed nearly 21/2 months while she stayed on at Northwestern during that school's run to its seventh NCAA women's lacrosse championship in the past eight years. Elliott was a part of six of them, either as a player or an assistant (she was associate head coach this season) under Kelly Amonte Hiller, whose 32-2 NCAA tourney record and Northwestern's remarkable seven championships just might deserve the dynasty tag.

"Oh, I don't think I would ever call it a dynasty," offered Elliott. "Every year is a special year at Northwestern - a different year with its own challenges. One of the great things about Northwestern and Kelly is that once that day's over, you enjoy it for a little bit and then you focus on the next season and try to achieve something new and great within that season with a new team."

Northwestern, which finished the 2012 season 21-2, defeated Syracuse 8-6 in the NCAA championship game on May 27 in Stony Brook, N.Y. The game drew 7,127, slightly below last year's title game record crowd of 8,011. Elliott and everyone else in the lacrosse community believe audiences like those are proof of the burgeoning national popularity for a sport that has mostly East Coast roots.

But the roots are spreading. Elliott watched Amonte Hiller get lacrosse rooted and revved up in Chicago, which was considered a western environment. "When Kelly was building her program, it was just different for kids to want to come even farther west - similar to here," Elliott recalled. "The sport is growing a lot across the country, but still the majority of the tournaments, teams, are based on the East Coast.

"To get kids to venture from that norm and come west is still a challenge. But it's something Kelly faced as well. I think the athletic department at Northwest was very supportive of Kelly and has been. It's a smaller department in number of teams, and I think that's very similar to (CU). There's great support for it here."

In her hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Elliott almost pursued an athletic career in ice hockey before she cooled on that sport - "Actually, I kind of burned out on it" - and developed her passion for lacrosse. A big brother played hockey and her sisters "were doing the figure skating thing . . . so I kind of followed in his footsteps."

She and her parents even looked at colleges with hockey in mind. But that changed in her junior year of high school when an alumna who had gone to Maryland returned to Shaker Heights and helped coach high school women's lacrosse for a year. She was introduced to Amonte Hiller at UM, told Elliott about Northwestern and said, according to Elliott, "They're going to be great."

"I didn't know much about Northwestern at the time; being from Ohio I knew a little about Ohio State and Michigan," Elliott said. "But things just kind of worked out for me. I went to campus (at Northwestern), met Kelly, saw the school and just fell in love with the place. I'm fortunate I had the opportunity to go there and be a part of that."

Amonte Hiller undeniably was/is the biggest lacrosse influence on Elliott, who has worked camps for Amonte Sports since she was a Northwestern player and now says advice, encouragement or whatever from Amonte Hiller requires only a phone call or text.

"She's someone I can lean on and I have in the past," Elliott said. "I'm pretty comfortable with calling and asking for advice or her opinion as I get into my building process here. I played for her for four years and I really did grow up there . . . I learned so much from her as a player but also off-field things in terms of working hard and achieving anything you set your mind to.

"Obviously over the last four years, coaching under her, I've continued to learn. She's continued to be an inspiration to me. Kelly's one of those people who definitely challenges you every day. At times it's tough, like anything in life. But also at the end of the day, you grow, you learn and you see what you can achieve if you push through those hard times."

Elliott also has a close relationship and much in common with former Northwestern teammate Lindsey Munday, now the head lacrosse coach at Southern California. USC begins its first season of women's lacrosse competition in 2013.  Said Elliott: "I've been leaning on her, too. She's a great friend and has been very helpful."

If you're wondering what a head coach does to stay busy when her first team is more than a year away from beginning competition, don't wonder too long. Lacrosse is one of those sports (soccer is another) that seem to focus on younger and younger prospects every year.

"It's ever-changing," Elliott said. "Going into summer, a lot of kids who are seniors have made decisions over the last six months. Even some younger kids, rising juniors, have made their decisions . . . it's a little bit crazy when you think of how old they are and where they are in their life. But for us it's an exciting process to find the right kids.

"So for myself and staff this summer, it's kind of getting out and seeing what kids are still out there, what kids are going to be a good fit for (CU) and help us build from the ground up. Once we get to the end of the summer and the tournaments are winding down, we'll obviously focus on the things we have to do here - getting ourselves settled and talking to people within the athletic department about the things we have to do in terms of facilities and things like that to make sure we're ready to play."

Elliott is allowed two full-time staffers and one volunteer assistant. She's within a week or two of announcing one full-time assistant, with the other to be named later in the summer. That timetable doesn't put her behind in recruiting since the NCAA allows only two coaches to be out at any given time.

Like Amonte Hiller did in initially structuring her Northwestern program, Elliott will look at the possibility of adding a player or two from CU's club team to her first roster. "Kelly drew a couple of kids like that in her first class and I think it'll be similar here," Elliott said. "CU has a great club team and there might be a couple of kids that jump over, depending on their interest and commitment level."

If it takes awhile for Elliott to get her bearings in Boulder and really, really believe she's settled in, it might take just a bit longer for her to come to the realization that she's a first-time head coach at a school that's fashioning its first lacrosse program.

"I feel completely comfortable out here, but it all hasn't totally sunk in yet," she conceded. "It's been an exciting time for me last couple of months . . . and just a little hard balancing the two things. I really wanted to finish the season at Northwestern. It's been a quick turnaround since the Final Four and the championship game. But I think being out here has been extremely exciting; every day is special and exciting."

The level of excitement - she hopes - will only go up.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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