Kit Vela will enter her 14th season with the University of New Mexico Lobos, and in her first 13 seasons, she has brought the Lobos from a downtrodden program to a player on the national scene. Entering the 2014 season, the Lobos will be looking for an unprecedented third Mountain West title and a third trip to the NCAA College Cup in the last four years.
Vela, who has seen a host of All-Conference performers, Academic All-Americans, and Players of the Year come through her program, led the Lobos to school record eight consecutive winning seasons, back-to-back undefeated conference seasons in the always tough Mountain West, and a MW record 20-match conference unbeaten string (15-0-5) that ended in 2013.
Only the third coach in the history of the program, Vela enters the 2014 season with a career coaching record of 112-99-43 overall and 41-32-19 in the Mountain West. Over the last five seasons, the Lobo have been outstanding, going 56-31-17 (.621) overall, winning at least 12 games in four of those five seasons. In conference play, the Lobos have had five straight winning season and set a school record with six conference wins in 2013.
UNM had four players earn second team All-Mountain West honors, but the Lobos led the MW with 17 All-Academic picks. New Mexico also led the nation with five Capital One Academic All-District selections, including three first teamers. Brooke Ellison became the third Academic All-American in the program's history, all coming under Kit Vela.
In 2012, Vela led her charges to a second straight undefeated MW regular season at 4-0-2, winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles. The Lobos, who were 0-3 in championship games, broke through with a 2-0 victory over Wyoming at the UNM Soccer Complex, placing the Lobos in the NCAA College Cup for a second straight year.
It looked like 2011 might be a shaky one as the team got out of the gates at 3-4-2, including three straight one-goal defeats, the final two in overtime. However, the Lobos quickly righted the ship, reeling off a school record 11 straight games without a loss, going 9-0-2. Only when UNM faced No. 2 ranked UCLA on the Bruins' home pitch in the College Cup would the Lobos taste defeat, and that was by a scant 1-0 margin on a late Bruin goal. UNM finished with a 12-5-4 record.
UNM swept the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards, and Vela saw seven players placed on the All-Mountain West team. Ironically, only Williams and Cornell were on the first team, which showcases the depth that Vela assembled. True to form, the squad under Vela got it done in the classroom as well, as the squad led the Mountain West with 16 All-Academic honorees. Williams was also named Pacific All-Region, and the team earned the NSCAA's Academic Award.
The 2011 season came on the heels of a breakthrough 2010 campaign that saw UNM record its first undefeated conference season in school history and a 12-3-5 record, the best single-season winning percentage (.725) in school history.
Among the highlights of the 2010 campaign were UNM's 1-0 double-overtime victory over defending MW champion and nationally-ranked BYU in front of a crowd of over 2,000. The Lobos went 5-0-2 to win their first Mountain West regular season title, earning the top seed in the conference tournament. Despite a championship game loss, UNM qualified as an at-large team for its first NCAA College Cup, losing to eventual national champion Notre Dame.
Vela squad produced the Offensive and Defensive MVPs in the league, and Vela for her efforts won Mountain West Coach of the Year honors for the second time in her career. Four players earned first or second team All-Mountain West honors, and Offensive and Defensive MVPs Jen Williams and Kelli Cornell were named to the All-Pacific Region team.
2009 was the breakthrough season that Vela was waiting for, as the team won a school record 13 games, going 13-5-3 with a school and MW record 13 shutouts. The team went 4-3 in the Mountain West and advanced to the semifinals, dropping a 1-0 decision to BYU. Despite the strong record, the Lobos were denied a bid to the NCAA College Cup, a disappointment for sure, but probably just the fuel needed to propel UNM to the heights achieved in 2010 and 2011.
In 2008, New Mexico returned to the MWC tournament for the first time since missing in 2007. Using a revamped of¬fense the Lobos more than doubled their goals scored. Five seniors led the charge while several underclassmen showed experience beyond their age. The Lobos faced one of their toughest schedules and held their own against six teams that made the trip to the NCAA Women's College Cup last season. The Lobos tailled an overall record of 8-5-6 and went 3-3-1 in conference play.
In 2007, the Lobos reached the eight win mark for the third straight year. Defending their home turf was essential to its success as the Lobos went 5-2-0 in the friendly confines of the UNM Soccer Complex. The level of competition was on par as well. UNM played four nationally ranked teams and faced three eventual NCAA tournament teams. Defensively, the Lobos set a school record for fewest goals allowed in a season at 14. The season ended with an 8-5-4 overall record and a 2-3-2 mark in conference play.
In 2006, UNM had one of the most thrilling seasons in the program's history. The Lobos finished with a winning record and tied for third in the MWC standings. UNM faced one of the toughest schedules in the country, including eight games against NCAA tournament teams and four nationally-ranked opponents. The season was capped off with a semifinals appearance at the conference championship held in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In 2005, UNM finished above .500 for the first time since 2002 and advanced to the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game. The Lobos went 8-7-4 with a 3-3-1 record in conference play.
Starting over, Vela understood the Lobos would not be an over¬night success story when she started in 2001. It was going to take time, and most importantly, focus from the players and the coaching staff in order to achieve the goal of molding UNM into a strong team with a winning future.
Vela came to New Mexico after seven years of serving as the top assistant coach at the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount.
New Mexico quickly reaped the benefits of having a new head coach. In 2001, the Lobos had their best season ever in the Mountain West Conference, finishing second in the league with a 3-2-1 record after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll. Along the way, the Lobos picked up their first Mountain West Conference victories over Air Force, San Diego State and three-time defending conference champion Brigham Young. The 1-0 win over BYU in Provo was not only the first Lobo win in the series since 1995, but also marked the Cougars' first-ever loss to a conference opponent on their home field.
Vela earned her first career head coaching victory in dramatic fashion on Sept. 30, 2001, when New Mexico stunned No. 12 Kentucky 1-0 in Lexington, Ky. The win was not only Vela's first as head coach, but also marked the highest-ranked opponent ever defeated by UNM, a mark that stood until 2010 when UNM defeated No. 8 BYU 1-0 in Albuquerque.
Vela's success in 2001 was recognized by her peers as she was voted the MWC Coach of the Year, the first UNM head women's soccer coach to earn the prestigious honor.
Vela continued the upward climb in 2002 as she led the team to a 12-8-1 overall record, making it the most wins UNM had captured since 1997. New Mexico finished third in the MWC regular season (3-2-1) and had an amazing run at the MWC Championship in Provo, Utah. The Lobos proved they could challenge the Mountain West's top teams with an appearance in the title game against BYU.
With an extremely young team that was plagued by injuries all season, Vela still helped the Lobos have a good season in 2003. She led the team as a sixth seed to the semifinals of the conference tournament. With the win over third-seeded Wyoming, Vela became the winningest coach in postseason play for the Lobos.
The 2004 season featured a packed roster of young hopefuls eager to boost the program to new heights. Vela knew the season would pose plenty of challenges since over half of the squad was comprised of underclassmen. The Lobos began the season strong with a 3-1 record, the best start for UNM since 1997. On the road, the Lobos struggled with some close losses, but showed true potential.
Under Vela's tutelage, New Mexico has maintained consistent success in the classroom. In 11 seasons, New Mexico has placed 149 athletes on the MWC All-Academic team and has had 66 players named MWC Scholar Athlete by maintaining a 3.5 GPA or higher during the fall season. The Lobos have also had players earn Academic All-Ameri¬can honors, including Erchen Theys, who was named to the Verizon Academic All-America Second Team in 2002. Theys and Michelle Longmire also earned Verizon Academic All-District honors for their academic and athletic achievements in 2002. Former Lobo Terryn Granados was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All Dis¬trict VI first team in 2006. In 2008, Alexis Ball and Samantha Bevis were selected to the ESPN The Magazine All-District VI second and third team, respectively. In 2010, Jael Fenning and Kelli Cornell were named ESPN The Magazine All-District VI first team, and Fanning got the honor again in 2011.
Prior to taking over at New Mexico, Vela was an assistant for five years at USC under head coach Jim Millinder after serving as his assistant for two years (1994-95) at Loyola Marymount. During Vela's time at USC, the Trojans compiled a 73-27-4 record, winning at least 14 games each year. USC also made its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance in 2000, Vela's final season in Los Angeles.
Before entering the collegiate ranks at Loyola Marymount, Vela was the head girl's soccer coach for three years (1992-94) at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, Calif. She led Bishop Montgomery to three Mission League championships, the 1994 California Interscholastic Federation Division II title and was named the 1994 CIF Division II Coach of the Year. Vela also coached a variety of premier club teams in the Southern California area.
Vela was a four-year letter winner (1986-90) at Brown University in both women's soccer and softball. The soccer team made three NCAA tournament appearances, captured four Ivy League titles and was ranked top-12 in the country all four years of her career. Since college, Vela won the Women's Open national championship in July of 1998 with Sportsklubben Fram Ajax, a club team based in Palos Verdes, Calif. Ajax is a member of the Women's Semi-Professional Soccer League (WPSL).
Vela earned her bachelor's degree in Social/Cultural Anthropology from Brown University in 1990. Formerly Kit Schwartzman, she married Jorge Vela in May of 1997. The couple had their first son, Paolo Andreas, on Dec. 26, 2003 and just welcomed the addition of Cristiano Matteas on May 25, 2009.