Feb. 21, 2012
By Frank Mercogliano, Asst. A.D. for Communications
A pretty smart man was talking about a football team with a dilemma a few years back. The program in question was debating who should start at quarterback for a big game, and both candidates were roughly the same size, and pretty much had the same skill set. That pretty smart man's answer was surprisingly simple, profound, and succinct.
"Start the smart guy."
When questioned as to why that was his answer, his follow-up comment made all the sense in the world. "Because when push comes to shove, I want the B+ student making the decisions, not the C- student."
In the world of New Mexico women's soccer, the Lobos under Kit Vela have probably looked to some folks like they have straight-A students making all the decisions on the field after back-to-back Mountain West championships and a 14-game conference unbeaten streak.
Those folks would be right.
UNM women's soccer has a lot of straight A students. Six student-athletes last fall had perfect 4.0 GPAs during UNM's run to both the regular season and conference tournament titles. Those six were Alexis Ball, Kelli Cornell, Jael Fanning, Elizabeth Nare, Cassandra Ulrich, and Brianna Webster. Of those six, Cornell, Fanning, Nare, and Webster played in all 21 games for the 12-5-4 Lobos. Ball, Fanning, Nare and Ulrich have perfect 4.0s for their UNM careers. Fanning was a First Team CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-District 7 selection for a second consecutive year, as Cornell also teamed for the honor last year.
Cornell might have the best combination of smart and skill for goalkeepers in the nation, as she is a two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, and she owns school records for wins and shutouts.
"This group of young women is committed to the entire process of being a top student-athlete," said head coach Kit Vela, the winningest coach in UNM women's soccer history. "That 'process' is being a top student and a top athlete, all inclusive - they are the epitome. I could not be more proud of their efforts, in both arenas."
It's not just that UNM has a bunch of 4.0 student-athletes either. Lobo women's soccer led the conference in Mountain West all-academic selections for women's soccer with 16:
"This group of young women is committed to the entire process of being a top student-athlete."
--Head Coach Kit Vela
Amanda Collins - Senior, Psychology
Kelli Cornell - Junior, Marketing Management
Brooke Ellison - Sophomore, Undecided
Jael Fanning - Senior, Nutrition & Dietetics
Elba Holguin - Junior, Mathematics Education
Lauren Irwin - Junior, Psychology
Natalie Jenks - Junior, Biology
Shelbie Luna - Junior, Business Administration
Brianna Martinez - Freshman, Undecided
Roxie McFarland - Senior, Biology
Rachel Montoya - Junior, Psychology
Elizabeth Nare - Sophomore, Undecided
Stephanie Rowe - Junior, Business Administration
Madisyn Olguin - Freshman, Undecided
Jennifer Williams - Senior, Psychology
Zaneta Wyne, - Senior, Environmental Science
As a team, the Lobos posted a team-high 3.48 GPA for the fall semester. To get selected for that squad, student-athletes must have completed at least one academic term at the member institution while maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better, and be a starter or significant contributor on their athletic team. That basically means 64% of the Lobo women's soccer team has a 3.0 grade point average, making it easy to see how that success has translated to the soccer pitch.
Behind every great team of athletes is a great coach, and the same can be said from the academic side. That coach, or academic advisor for the women's soccer program is Lisa Kiscaden, who oversees all facets of academics for the team, from study tables, to making sure the student-athletes are continuing their academic pursuits while traveling during the rigors of the Mountain West.
"The Women's Soccer program has a foundation of excellence, on the field and in the class room," said Kiscaden. "There are two sides to the program, competitive nature and the family-like structure. The competitiveness of the team keeps individuals challenged and constantly trying to out-do each other. The family environment really helps students bond and help each other and support each other through the stress and challenge that surface in collegiate academics.
There is no doubting the family environment of Lobo women's soccer, what with coach Vela's two young children watching intently from the stands at all Lobo home games, but the closeness of the team, the chemistry of the team is such that it is easy to see why this is a program that not only wants all members to success, but one sees the student-athletes push each other to succeed, no matter the venue: practice field, study hall, game pitch, or the classroom. And that is music to Vela's ears.
"This team is magical to watch - train, study, interact, live. It is the culture we had the vision to create 11 years ago, and we feel very fortunate to see the fruition of these years of hard work and dedication - an incredible part of the Lobo family!" said Vela, adding, "This is a legacy to continue!"
Indeed it is.