By Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 25, 2005
Kelly Nelson has had a long time to think about potential. The senior forward for the No. 18 Arizona women's soccer team, Nelson has played minor roles on the field the past two seasons, as various lower-body injuries have kept her from building on her breakthrough freshman season, when she scored a school-record 13 goals.
Since then, she has notched two points - both assists - in 19 games, including a mere two shots on goal in nine games in 2004.
Last season her teammates were there to pick up the slack on offense. The result: 15 wins and a first-ever postseason berth - that ended in a first-round road loss to Colgate in December. Nelson, a team tri-captain two years running, had been relegated to spot duty.
Now, with graduated forward Candice Wilks, last year's second-leading scorer, no longer an option up front, Nelson is being counted on to help anchor the team's attack as the Wildcats work to meet preseason expectations, among them another program first: preseason national rankings.
In the early going, opponents are likely to discount Nelson, instead focusing on neutralizing midfielder/forward Mallory Miller, another senior.
Miller, arguably the team's most versatile and consistent offensive performer, posted solid numbers (team-high nine assists, five goals) in earning honorable mention honors from the Pacific 10 Conference last season while starting more games than any other player.
Nevertheless, in 2004 her number of goals scored was cut nearly in half, a trend due in part to the team having four players with five or more netters.
With top-billing status and a few years of upward momentum in her corner, Miller should be aggressive in attacking the net, especially with Kamaya Damwilk (14 points, two game-winning goals in '04) and Nelson around to buffer any offensive charge.
But it's Nelson who stands to gain the most from a productive year. She's shown resilience so far as a Wildcat, producing a career year in 2002 (27 points) after redshirting her freshman season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. She's also battled nagging ankle injuries.
With bench time aplenty on her collegiate resume, Nelson has enthusiasm to burn. If she can make magic in spurts as she did at times in '02 - scoring a school-record-tying five goals in 29 minutes against Belmont - she can become the Wildcats' equivalent of Ken Griffey Jr., circa 2005: a promising talent racked by injury whose bad luck finally runs out.
Should that happen for Nelson this season, the Wildcats may be thinking about more than a first-round postseason exit.
Tom Knauer is a journalism junior. He can be reached at email@example.com.