Jill Elliott remembers it well.
She entered Eau Claire North basketball practice in the early 1990s as a wide-eyed freshman looking for her first taste of high school basketball. Elliott — whose last name was Berg back then — idolized the varsity team and coaches, looking at them as role models, as so many young kids do.
And there she was, right among the girls she had looked up to over the years.
“I remember walking into the Doghouse, being that new player, and coming in and meeting the coaches and the girls,” Elliott said. “It was amazing, everybody in there was on a pedestal in my head.”
She was caught up in Husky fever back then. It’s still there nearly 30 years later.
Elliott was named the North girls basketball coach in June, bringing her back to her alma mater after a highly successful playing career that saw her college team, Old Dominion, play in a national championship game and earned her a tryout for the U.S. Olympic team.
She’s back home, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Since day one, this has been something I’ve dreamed of and hoped would happen,” said Elliott, a member of the Husky Athletics Hall of Fame.
She got her official start as the North coach on Monday, when the Huskies had their first summer contact day practice. It was an opportunity for the girls of the next generation to experience their own version of Elliott’s memory.
“I was reflecting on that, thinking about how special it was for me to meet the coaches for the first time,” she said. “And having the incoming freshman come in just made me reflect on how through all the years, that stuck with me.”
Now it’s her chance to give back.
She’s learned a lot about the game of basketball over the years. She was the first North female athlete to receive a Division I basketball scholarship, and went on to win four conference championships with the Monarchs. Old Dominion finished as national runner-up in 1997, when they fell to legendary coach Pat Summitt and her Tennessee squad in the championship game.
Elliott knows a thing or two about legendary coaches. She was recruited to Old Dominion by Anne Donovan, who led the U.S. women to a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in addition to winning a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm in 2004. Donovan died last month.
“I think about how lucky I was to have the experiences I had because of her,” Elliott said. “We had a connection. I still use some of her drills, thinking about Coach ‘D.’ … I just feel really fortunate.”
Elliott is no stranger to the area since graduating from North in 1993. She coached at the younger levels of the program from 1998-2003 and coached youth basketball in Eau Claire for the last four years. She was also on the Cadott girls staff for the last three seasons.
A passion that she said borders on obsession has fueled her drive to get back into the game as a coach.
“I’ve done a lot coaching, but recently it’s become a top priority,” she said. “I just want to coach every spare minute. It’s kind of strange, it’s almost become an obsession, where if it’s AAU, youth ball, summer league, I don’t care. I just want to coach.”
That kind of passion figures to serve her well with the Huskies. Elliott takes over a North team that played around .500 last year and was in the middle of the pack in the Big Rivers Conference.
The Huskies will need to replace their top four scorers from last winter, so they’ll be bringing more fresh faces than just Elliott to the court.
“Everybody gets a fresh start, including me. It’s fresh eyes, a fresh take on what we can do,” Elliott said. “Hats off to their former coaches. Coach (Michelle Peplinski) did a great job with them. Their fundamentals are solid. These girls do things that take years to rep, and they’re doing them in their summer games.”
In addition to instilling values that will be beneficial for her players later in life, Elliott is looking to challenge them to be their best on the court.
“I want to be the kind of coach that the kids remember for being fair, consistent, firm, that made practices fun and engaging, but also challenged them,” she said.