PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Elizabeth Hillman competed with the U.S. U19 women's training team as it battled Navy in the Team USA Fall Classic.

Nothing Comes Easy: U19 Hopeful Elizabeth Hillman Loves Competition


It was Elizabeth Hillman’s final year with the Sky Walkers (Md.) lacrosse club before heading to her dream school at North Carolina.

It was Ally Carey’s first and final chance to make a lasting impression as Hillman’s coach, joining the staff for the 2018 Sky Walkers Blue team.

It was in the dead heat of the summer at Friends School (Md.) when Carey jumped into a seven-on-seven drill to play defense against Hillman. But Carey possessed an unfair advantage. Not only is she a world-class player — a decorated veteran of gold medal-winning U.S. teams in 2013 and 2017 and member of the WPLL’s Pride — but she also joined the fray without a mouthguard or goggles.

“I pushed them, but they weren’t really allowed to push me,” said Carey, who also won a gold medal with the 2007 U.S. U19 team, the same squad Hillman hopes to suit up for this summer.

“She will laugh at me for saying this. I like to show the girls what’s ahead of them in college, so I’ll give them some muscle. I guess I gave her too much muscle, because she fell right over. It looked like I just crushed her.”

Instilling a tough defensive scheme akin to the teachings of former Team USA coach Ricky Fried — he was known for an aggressive “Aces” ride — Carey pressured Hillman out to the 12-meter and refused to fall for her dodging fakes. When Hillman hit the ground, Carey scooped up the ground ball and sprinted downfield.


“The competitiveness you have on the field, it just doesn’t turn off. Success is solely determined on giving your personal best."


“See ya!” Carey said. “She took it, she laughed it off and then we kept going.”

Carey likened herself to Hillman when it comes to competitive creativity. They both go hard. They both can take a hit. They both understand the need to think two steps ahead to make the next play.

“She helped me realize that no one’s going to give it to me easy out there,” Hillman said.

Not that Hillman ever wanted it that way. At age 6, she played flag football with boys and begged to advance to tackle football. It never materialized, but Hillman’s toughness would never be questioned, either.
At 5-foot-4, Hillman’s small stature made her prone to minor nagging injuries. During a high school basketball game with Bel Air (Md.) last March, she sprained the UCL in her arm, causing some nerve damage. Fighting through the pain, she qualified for the U.S. U19 training team after tryouts last August, but sat out Team USA’s Spring Premiere at Stanford in January.

She'll be back in the red, white and blue this weekend as the training team descends upon US Lacrosse headquarters for training.

“I am still usually one of the smaller players out there, so I definitely do get hit a lot, but I can take them pretty well,” Hillman said. “It’s a cliché saying, but if you get knocked down, you have to get back up again.”








Despite Hillman’s injury, U.S. U19 coach Kelly Amonte Hiller invited her to join the team at Spring Premiere anyway. Hillman warmed up the goalies, cheered loudly and held onto specialist Maddie Jenner’s draw stick between goals. She also made sure nothing went unnoticed, like a key pick that set up a scoring play.

“I was able to mentally prepare myself,” Hillman said. “I’m the type of player who obviously doesn’t like sitting on the sideline. I’d try to find any way I could to help my team out, help the coaches out and just make sure I was always their No. 1 hype man.”

Hillman has since returned to the field as a freshman midfielder at North Carolina. She wears a black brace on her elbow and finds motivation in the lessons she learned from some of her mentors.

From Carey, “Hone your fundamentals.”

From UNC and U.S. senior team coach Jenny Levy, “Buy into the team’s goals.”

From Tar Heels assistant and former U.S. gold medalist Katrina Dowd, “Play for the fans, not the refs.”

And from the greatest basketball player of all-time, “Some people want it to happen. Some wish it would happen. Others make it happen.”




PHOTO BY JOHNS STROHSACKER

Hillman started four games for North Carolina this season, tallying nine goals and three assists this season.


“I love Michael Jordan,” said Hillman, which explains her obsession with sneakers, specifically white low Jordan retros that she customized with Carolina colors and her number 32. “He’s a really good guy to model off of. I think one of the coolest things about Michael Jordan while he played was that everyone knew he was the best player on the court, no matter what, every game. Even though he might’ve not been the top scorer or had the most assists, you could just tell he was the best player. That says a lot about him and his character, his ability to make his team better.”

Hillman believes she brings the most value “between the 30s,” not necessarily scoring goals for North Carolina or Team USA, but rather doing the dirty work on the draw circle and in the midfield, redefending and pushing transition.

“All those little things,” she said. “They add up.”

Hillman was born in Maryland, a lacrosse hotbed. Ironically, though, her introduction to the sport came during an impressionable three-year period after her family moved to North Carolina when she was 6. Hillman’s uncle, Dean, who played lacrosse in high school, gave her brother, Taylor, and her fiddle sticks. The siblings would duke it out in the backyard of their home, about 10 minutes from UNC’s campus in Chapel Hill. At the time, there was no organized youth lacrosse program in their community. Quizzical neighbors wondered what they were doing.

“I had never really even seen lacrosse by that time,” Hillman said. “My brother and I were always competitive, no matter what, with everything we did. If you lose, you’re trying to start a fight. Lots of trash talk.”

Hillman’s family moved back to Maryland when she was 9. She picked up a field lacrosse stick and hasn’t looked back. She was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the class of 2019, according to Inside Lacrosse, and dropped 12 points on nine goals and three assists while starting four games this past season.

Hillman also has developed a personal standard of success in line with UNC’s mantra of “competitive greatness,” which she hopes to carry into the FIL U19 Women’s World Championship (Aug. 1-10 in Peterborough, Ontario) with Team USA.

“The competitiveness you have on the field, it just doesn’t turn off,” said Hillman, who boasted a 4.1 GPA during her senior year of high school. “Success is solely determined on giving your personal best.”

Hillman brings that attitude even to leisurely pursuits, like when she goes blacktip shark fishing with her family in Hilton Head, S.C., every summer.

“It definitely is an adrenaline rush when you hold a shark and take the hook out of its mouth,” she said.

Always doing the dirty work.