Drexel graduate student Colleen Grady saw enthusiasm radiating from new women’s lacrosse head coach Kim Hillier at their first meeting during Hillier’s interview process.

Fast forward a few months later and her hunch was confirmed at their first practice.

“You can definitely see her passion for the game,” Grady said. “She’s always doing something to make you so excited and always has everyone pushing to make good plays. She is very outward with her knowledge, which is something we all really like and she’s on the same page as us to get us to the next level.”

After their first NCAA tournament berth last season, the Drexel women’s lacrosse team returns with a similar core and the same goal in mind — making another run at the NCAA tournament. However, there’s one unknown surrounding the program coming into this season and that’s Hillier, who makes her debut on Saturday in Drexel’s season opener against Wagner.

Hillier, who was associate head coach at Stony Brook from 2016-2021, was announced as head coach in August after former coach Jill Batcheller took over at Villanova after three seasons at Drexel.

» READ MORE: Justin Moore’s three-school basketball journey to Drexel

“I haven’t done anything yet. That’s the big question mark behind this program. But I’m an earn-everything type of person,” Hillier said. " I’m giving 150% in every category of what I do on a daily basis because that’s what they deserve.

“These young women want to win. I couldn’t be more honored to be considered their leader.”

Hillier helped Stony Brook to four NCAA tournament appearances and the program is coming off its eight consecutive America East Conference title last season.

“I felt gutted to leave, to be honest with you,” Hillier said. “I had no intention of leaving and I got a message from [Drexel] athletic director Maisha Kelly and it was just an opportunity too good to pass up. And the second I got to campus, it felt like home and that’s really hard for me to say about anywhere else.”

Hillier followed the Dragons during their historical 2021 season. They finished with a 13-3 record, won the Colonial Athletic Association title, went to the NCAAs and earned their first ever top-10 national ranking. Drexel enters this season ranked 16th by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association.

“I was blown away by the amount of success that they had,” Hillier said. “And there’s so many weapons on the field and finding out a handful will be returning for this year, it quickly became a dream job that I couldn’t pass up.”

Drexel returns multiple key players, including captains Grady, preseason CAA player of the year Karson Harris, Lucy Schneidereith, and Zoe Bennett — all graduate students — along with 14 other upperclassmen.

“The leadership on this team is completely unparalleled,” Hillier said. “And these leaders have been here through two to three different head coaches in their tenure and they’ve been part of Drexel at every stage and level.

» READ MORE: Amy Mallon earned her Drexel success in true Philly style

“They trusted the process and just loved every part of Drexel. The leadership has been just unbelievable with them and they are the reason why I’m here.”

Hillier is Grady’s third head coach in her five years at Drexel.

“There’s always a little bit of nervousness and anxiety with a new coach coming in,” Grady said. “You’re always wondering what it’s gonna be like, what’s going to change. So there was a lot of nerves, but we’re really blessed with the coach that we’ve gotten.”

Hillier is trying to push the program to the next level by upping the schedule with more competition. This season’s schedule features five teams ranked in the top 20.

“It’s really exciting, but it’s also going to be a challenge so we’re going to have to grit out those games,” Grady said. “[Hillier has] been doing a good job at putting us on the radar and getting us the opportunity to play these big games and prepare for these big moments in the CAA and NCAA.”

Picked to finish second overall in the preseason CAA poll, behind James Madison, Hillier wants to make it clear that the Dragons belong at the top.

» READ MORE: Drexel’s Chris Donovan gets to work on pro career with MLS’ Columbus Crew

“We want to do something that this program has never done before,” Hillier said. “And from here on out winning the CAA should be a non-negotiable because that’s just who we are.

“And I want to make sure these young women understand and are reminded each day that not only do they belong here but they’re here to stay on the national stage.”