For junior goalkeeper Kelly Johnson, a fourth generation Cornellian playing for Cornell field hockey is about more than just representing her family and her institution.
“A great majority of the people in my family that have come to Cornell have been men, so representing the power of females in sports and academics means a lot to me,” she said.
For the past three years, Johnson — a biology and society major — has come to define female achievement for the Big Red and has become one of the most talented and consistent players in Cornell history.
This season, Johnson broke the program record for most wins as a goalkeeper and notched the seventh shutout of her career.
“Kelly has always been a really solid goalkeeper,” said Head Coach Donna Hornibrook. “She does a lot on and off the field for us.”
Early on, there were no guarantees for Johnson, who came to Cornell as a freshman with a lot to prove. Nonetheless, Johnson found success right away with the Red, winning the starting job and going on to appear in eleven games in her first season.
“The coaches have always had a lot of confidence in me because I’ve been involved in the US program,” she said. “They knew I had experience playing against great players.”
This confidence from the coaching staff early on in her career was one of the reasons that Johnson developed into such a complete player. Likewise, Johnson has been able to play behind a talented junior class for three seasons.
The unit includes forwards Krysten Mayers and Katie Carlson, as well as back Sam McIlwrick, amongst others who are also having tremendous Cornell careers. With a mixture of talent and chemistry, the group has been a major bright spot for Cornell Field Hockey.
“Our grade kind of has everything,” she said. “We’re kind of like a mini team within a team.”
Johnson believes the group can continue to reach new levels of achievement in the time they have left at Cornell. Although things haven’t gone as well as hoped this season for the Red, the Ivy League title still remains the goal for this group of players.
“The goal is always to win as many goals as you possibly can,” she said. “If you win as many games as you can, then you’re going to win the title.”
For Johnson, winning the Ivy League title next season would mean everything in what could be her final season of competitive field hockey. She is still unsure of her future, but she has ambitions outside of the realm of field hockey.
“I’ve thought about the idea of coaching out of college, but there are a lot of other things I want to do with my time,” she explained.
She emphasized that she wants to put her Cornell education to good use and that coaching is a possibility if she decides to continue her education.
Nevertheless, Johnson remains focused on making of her time at Cornell. One of the reasons she has been so successful for Cornell Field Hockey is that she always sees room for improvement.
“I’ve known our goalie coach Ali Harris since I was fourteen,” she said. “Sophomore year she left for another job, but she returned this season and has helped me improve my game.”
For the Cornell Field Hockey program under head coach Donna Hornibrook, practice and improvement is just as important as execution when game time rolls around.
“Some practices it seems like Ali is just there to beat up on me,” she said. “There are always things to improve on.”
Whether or not Johnson and her peers can win the Ivy League title remains to be seen, but one thing these players will leave behind is an unrivaled work ethic and love for the game.
“You can show work ethic all year round,” she said. “You can show it during spring season or when you’re losing.”
Johnson’s work ethic has been on display in every game she plays, and she takes pride knowing that her father, also a Cornellian, is in the stands for every game.
“My dad comes to every game,” she explained. “I really like that I can be even more of a connection to Cornell for him.”
For three seasons, Johnson has exemplified for her father —as well as for her teammates and her institution — what it means to be a female athlete at Cornell.