Two years ago, Janine Hillier made one of the biggest decisions of her life. After an exceptional sports career at , she considered several college options. She chose to move more than 1,000 miles away from home and join a newly created program - the women's lacrosse team at the University of Florida.
She knows she made a wise, prosperous choice.
"Yes, I do consider myself a pioneer, creating and establishing the program is an awesome thing," she said. "Turning down this opportunity to make history would have been a silly thing to do. I think coming [to Florida] and impacting the program right away was something I wanted to do."
The Gators (10-1) currently have a 10-game winning streak (the second-longest in the country). Hillier and her teammates have elevated their second-year program to its highest national ranking - No. 6 in this week's coach's poll. Hillier quickly proved herself a dependable, skilled attacker.
The former student at and is now one of the Gators' cornerstones. Hillier played in all 18 games in 2010, scoring 15 goals, and she started 10 times as a freshman. This season, she's started in all 11 games.
"I recruited Janine because she is a phenomenal lacrosse player, has a tremendous personality and is a very good student," said Florida coach Amanda O'Leary. "Janine encompasses all the attributes you want in a student-athlete. She is very fun to be around. She is motivating and a vocal leader."
The 5-5 Hillier, as the Gators get ready to play at No. 16 Penn State on Saturday, has 15 goals this season and her 27 draw controls are second-highest on the team.
"Janine is a dynamic attacker," O'Leary said. "She is athletic and it is apparent in her offensive and defensive abilities. She is fast, which makes her a threat in transition. She has a tremendous work ethic and it is visible every day at
practice, in the weight room and during conditioning sessions."
Folks in Farmingdale, who recall Hillier's early career, knew she had a bright college future. She sparkled during the 2009 season when the undefeated Dalers (17-0) surged to a No. 1 national ranking and won the New York State Class A Championship. A two-time MVP of the state title game, she scored 164 career goals and 143 assists for Farmingdale.
As a senior for Coach Shari Campbell, Hillier was named a first-team prep All-American with 52 goals and 25 assists. She made big contributions to boost the Dalers to four-straight Long Island lacrosse championships. And she also played basketball, soccer and volleyball for FHS.
"I've won state championships and I wanted to keep winning (at the next level)," said Hilier. "I always wanted to go to a (NCAA) Division I college. With my work ethic, I always work hard in the classroom and on the field... I consider me tenacious. I play fearless when I am on the field."
When asked for a favorite quote, Hillier responded: That you should live each moment like it is your last and push to the max." She joined a Florida athletic program with ample financial resources and Hillier is impressed with the warmer weather in Gainesville.
Majoring in special education, she has daily academic support. Her team gets nutrition guidance and takes commercial flights for its road games. Her parents, Annette and William, fly south to see some of her games. She also talks to her older sister, Kim, a 2006-07 American for the Hofstra women and now an assistant coach at Long Island University. Hillier, who attends , keeps reminders of her roots in her dorm room.
"I have posters and pictures of my old teammates on the wall," she said. Hillier also likes to wear her Farmingdale T-shirts. "I still represent where I come from," she said. "I will never forget where I come from."