September 12, 2003

Keeping the Net Goal-Free

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In the women’s soccer team’s final league game against Princeton last November, goaltender Katie Thomas collided with another player while making a save in the second half. The hit left her with a concussion. But, dizzy and nauseous, she played the final 25 minutes anyway and finished with nine saves. That’s just her style.

Despite Thomas’ efforts, the Tigers won that contest, but the then-sophomore netminder was determined not to let the loss or a throbbing headache interfere with her main focus: winning the next game.

“I felt disappointed that we weren’t able to pull off a victory,” she said. “But I was extraordinarily proud of the intensity and courage our team played with for the entire 90 minutes. We’d just have to do better next time.”

Now entering her junior year and a new season, Thomas hopes to help the women’s soccer team improve on its 9-6-2 record from last year. And she has the talent, charisma, and mindset to do it.

In high school, the Northridge, Calif. native was the best in the business. In addition to playing for the Chaminade College Prep team, Thomas also tended goal for a club program that won the National Women’s Open Cup Championship in 2000.

Can’t top that? She also earned outstanding defensive player of the year honors for the entire state of California.

Those impressive credentials had schools around the country pining for her to join their program. But Cornell head coach Berhane Andeberhan knew he had to get her to choose Cornell.

“I was hired rather late for the year’s recruiting cycle, which made it difficult,” he recalled. “But when I got her to come, it gave us instant quality on the field and instant credibility in recruiting.”

Thomas immediately made an impact for the Red. In her first fall on the Hill, the goalie played every minute of every game, recording 104 saves and maintaining a 1.25 goals against average. Those numbers netted her Ivy League Rookie of the Week twice, the team’s Rookie of the Year Award, and All-Ivy honorable mention. Last year, she continued to improve, posting an .840 save percentage and dropping her goals against average to 0.96.

Presence of mind during games has contributed significantly to such successful campaigns. To those who don’t know soccer well, it may appear that Thomas has a lot of dead time in between saves. On the contrary: she’s always working.

From her vantage, she has a view of the entire field, which gives her the unique ability to direct the team as a whole. In offensive situations, she constantly communicates advantages to her teammates in the field who can’t see the same picture. When the ball comes across half, however, her talents truly show. Thomas must constantly scan the field to make sure opponents are marked and that her teammates maintain their positions. She does all of that while keeping track of the ball and poising herself to cut off crosses and to stop shots from any angle.

“Katie is simply an excellent goalkeeper,” said Andeberhan. “She rises to the occasion in games as well as any keeper I have coached.”

But to Thomas, stats don’t matter much; her team does.

“I’m completely flattered by any recognition I’ve received in the past two years, and I truly appreciate it,” she said. “However, I know that any success I’ve had has also been a result of working with players who give everything they have all season to help me keep the ball out of the net.”

Perhaps that modesty is why she has become such a popular leader — during games and off the field.

“She’s a bright intellectual on the field, and when she makes great saves, she has a way of inspiring the whole team, and the level of play picks up,” said Andeberhan. “Off the field, her friendliness, sense of humor, and love of cappuccino yogurt are a source of smiles.”

Athleticism, humor, and exquisite culinary taste, too. What a package. And that’s just what her coach thinks.

“I wouldn’t trade her for all the tea in China.”

Archived article by Everett Hullverson