Sept. 10, 2009
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It's probably a good thing that part of Kelli Cornell`s nature is the urge to gobble up things in front of her.
Like food. Like soccer balls that are screaming toward the University of New Mexico's net. Yeah, you put it in front of Cornell and she'll go for it, put it away.
"The team calls me the garbage disposal," said the redshirt freshman keeper. "I eat a lot. I don't really have a favorite food. It's pretty much anything.
"I usually finish mine and everyone else's dinner."
In some ways, that's a good thing. Hey, these are hard economic times. You don't want good food going to waste. However, there is a small, er, large, problem with finishing everyone else's dinner.
Cornell rooms with six other Lobos. That's a lot of leftovers. That's a lot of gobbling -- assuming there is anything left over. "Good thing I'm an athlete," says Cornell, referring to a rigorous regiment of activity that helps burn away the calories.
What Cornell also is good at is keeping the enemies' goals down to a manageable number which also keeps Lobo Coach Kit Vela happy. Cornell is kind of a garbage disposal in front of the UNM net, too. She eats up balls launched by the enemy.
Cornell is leading the Mountain West Conference in save percentage (.900), shutouts (4) and is ranked second in goals-allowed average (0.40). She is undefeated in the net at 5-0 and in UNM's big 1-0 win over Iowa -- Lobos' first win over a Big 10 opponent -- she turned back all 12 of Iowa's shots on goal.
It was the fourth shutout for the 5-0 Lobos.
"She's not showy in front of the net," said Coach Vela. "When you watch her play, you don't think, `oh, my gosh.' She does make phenomenal saves but she makes them look routine."
If Cornell has an advantage over most keepers, and maybe a few forwards, it might be that Cornell has spent much of her soccer time attacking nets and keepers. In high school at San Clemente (Calif.) High, she was a forward. In club ball for the Southern California Blues, she was in net.
"She knows how a forward is thinking and I think that gives her an edge," said Vela. "She can quickly read body language or angles and because she has played up front she doesn't have to guess what might happen. She knows.
"She is a huge reason we have only given up two goals so far."
Said Cornell: "I like the pressure of the net, being the last defender."
Cornell's shift from high school attacker to last defender in club ball was due to the Blues' other goalie, Hannah Turpen, being more suited for the net than the field. Turpen is the starting keeper for the Utah Utes and the former teammates are considered two of the top young keepers in the MWC.
Vela said getting Cornell to become a Lobo wasn't that difficult once she convinced Cornell to making a visit to the Land of Enchantment. But it's never an easy sell luring a California girl away from the beach.
"Kelli likes to surf. She is a true California kid and she rides her long board around campus," said Vela. ("It gets me to class quicker," said Cornell). "It's sometimes tough to get a California kid to visit," Vela continued, "but once we get them out her, we can usually get them to commit."
Said Cornell: "It's different here. I miss the beach. But I like it. I think what sold me on New Mexico was the coaching."
Vela rates her 5-foot-10 keeper as one of the more fierce competitors on a team of fierce competitors. That's a nice quality to have when placing your face and body in front of a rocket shot.
"Kelli is a quiet competitor, but she hates to lose," said Vela. "She even hates to lose when we run. She is one of our fitter kids, which is unusual for a keeper."
Vela calls Cornell a "class act," and a leader. But the Lobo coach also is quick to note one of the better things about her freshman keeper.
"We have her for four years," said Vela.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner