When senior attackman Kevin Nee first came to Cornell and picked a jersey number, his No. 14 — a number that his brother wore in college — was taken. So Nee settled with unlucky No. 13, and during his first two years at Cornell, he battled with numerous injuries and setbacks.
“The first two years, I kind of thought I could jinx myself,” Nee joked yesterday.
But these days, Nee’s performance on the field has made the Canton, N.Y., native a deadly threat for the unlucky opposing defenses he faces.
Nee is the leading goalscorer for the Red, finding the back of the cage 28 times in 10 games this season while also tallying eight assists. The attackman is most recently coming off a career-high seven-goal, one-assist performance in No. 4 Cornell’s dominating 17-4 win over Princeton last Saturday. He was named Ivy League Player of the Week for his efforts.
But Nee’s road to becoming one of Cornell’s top scoring threats has not been easy. After coming to the Red after being a two-time All-American at the Taft School, Nee experienced multiple injuries which limited his ability to play. Although Cornell head coach Jeff Tambroni knew that Nee was extremely talented, he was not able to utilize the attackman to his fullest ability.
“I think in my first two years, I was always dealing with injuries and it was frustrating at times, because I knew that I had a lot more potential than I was showing on the field,” Nee said. “During my junior season, I just learned how to deal with my injuries more and kind of took them in stride.”
One reason why Nee is more prone to injuries is the position he plays. While his teammates in attack — senior Sean Greenhalgh and junior Derek Haswell — are predominately located along the perimeter, Nee’s territory is in front of the crease.
“When you play in that position along the crease, you tend to take a little bit more of a beating than most guys do because when the ball goes inside, the guys typically hear the word, ‘check,’ and there’s usually four, five titanium shafts on his arms and his legs,” Tambroni said.
While Nee was learning to adjust to his injuries, he had a breakout junior season, partnering with Greenhalgh and Andrew Collins ’03 to score 26 goals last year.
This year, Nee has continued to find the back of the cage under the noses of opposing defenses. While other teams often focus on threats such as Greenhalgh or junior Joe Boulukos for their playmaking ability, Tambroni said that this has given players, including Nee, the ability to take advantage.
“Kevin is just so dangerous inside and we’ve enjoyed, as a [coaching] staff, the attention the other teams have put on Sean and Joe because I think it has alleviated a lot of the pressure that Kevin may receive or the attention that he may otherwise get,” Tambroni said.
Getting the ball is one thing, but Nee has been a silent sniper around the crease during the 2005 campaign. This year, Nee has averaged a scintillating .519 shooting percentage as .722 of his attempts have been on goal. The attackman also has a knack for being at the right place at the right time, usually finding himself in open spaces around the crease. This was exemplified by his crucial game-tying score with one second left before halftime at Syracuse two weeks ago, and his fourth-quarter goal against Dartmouth on April 16 which helped the Red escape Hanover, N.H., with an 8-7 win.
His threat has forced teams to “pick their poison,” according to Tambroni.
“Kevin just always seems to find the soft spot within defenses,” Tambroni said. “He has a knack for moving himself into a position that’s going to be advantageous for himself as a shooter, but also … for our feeders to give him the ball. He puts a lot of pressure on defenses because of it.”
Even though Nee is having a stellar season, he attributes his success to his teammates. He said as time has gone on during his career, he has grown stronger mentally and become more opportunistic and accustomed to his role in the offense.
With Nee’s help, Cornell has already clinched a share of the Ivy title, as well as a spot in the national tournament. But like many of his teammates, he is taking each game as a step towards an ultimate goal of reaching the Final Four and possibly winning a national crown.
“I think it’s important every week to just focus on the game that’s coming up that weekend,” Nee said. “Each game is just another step in our journey. I think that you can’t continue that journey without taking care of each individual step … Every weekend is a big weekend for us and I think we can’t get too high or too low at any time because we definitely have bigger goals in mind.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor