The wall at the net

Freshman goalkeeper Emily Kelly continues to impress in debut season

Emily Kelly

In front of the 8-foot-tall by 24-foot-wide net at the UB Stadium, stands a 5-foot-6-inch goalkeeper ready to pounce. From 10 yards to her left to a shot over her head, freshman Emily Kelly attacks every shot that comes her way with speed and ferocity.

The results have already shown.

In her first six games with the Bulls (5-1, 0-0 Mid-American Conference) she has recorded four shutouts and has only given up four goals. In her few months on the team, she has shown a high level of play that has coaches, players and support staff excited for her time to come at UB.

“It is rare a player comes in and can just perform at such a high level,” said head coach Shawn Burke. “It can take some players three years to be in that college shape, but Emily was ready day one. She is one of the best pure athletes I have ever coached.”

Burke is giving high praise for a freshman who replaced one of the best goalkeepers in program history in Laura Dougall, after her graduation last spring. Burke said the difference in goal keepers is that Dougall was able to utilize her reach and height at the net while Kelly relies on her explosiveness to, “lunge at the ball.”

“It’s awesome having her at the net,” said senior defender Rebecca Bramble. “She makes things less stressful on the defensive end. The first practice we played together, I saw her at the net and I was like, ‘ok, I can get used to this.’”

Bramble said Kelly is almost cat-like at the net, going after the ball like it was a red laser dot. Burke said she has a “work like mentality towards soccer,” seeing it less as a game and more as a job. She is known for always playing her hardest all the way to the final minute, according to Burke.

Kelly has 31 saves in six starts this season, having started for the Bulls in every regular season game this year. The Bulls have not lost a game since its season opener against the St. John's Red Storm (3-5). In the last five games she has only allowed one goal.

Kelly credits the defense and team as a whole for her strong play. She started playing as a goalkeeper seriously when she was 15 because, “nobody else was very good at it and my coach asked me to.”

“This team has no ego,” Kelly said. “Everyone here is open to criticism and doesn't get detracted off mistakes.”

Burke said Kelly was a perfect match for the team the moment he saw footage of her playing.

“I could see on video she had something that would excel here,” Burke said. “Once she got here she was even better than we thought … she can read a shot so well and has that ability to get there in an instant. To have that so early is just so rare and she is not even at her peak yet. The whole team isn’t even at 100 percent either and I am very happy with how we are shaping up.”

Burke said this is one of the deepest teams in terms of talent, but said recent freshmen additions like Kelly have been a “huge factor.” Still, Burke said he still sees untapped potential in all his players that the team can build upon.

“It’s a team-wide mentality but we can always get better,” Bramble said. “Emily got that the moment she got here and I think she keeps getting better. I see her putting the time at and after practice.”

Kelly said players like Bramble have been helpful in getting her comfortable playing for Buffalo.

“The experienced players made it way easier to feel calm at the net … after the first practice I was way less nervous playing,” Kelly said.

Up next for Kelly and the Bulls will be a home rivalry game against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies starting at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Bulls have the chance to earn wins over all the major Western New York schools, having beaten the Niagara University Purple Eagles (4-3) and the Canisius Golden Griffins (3-2-1) this season.

Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached at thomas.zafonte@ubspectrum.com  and on Twitter @Thomas_Spectrum