Vela Soccer Coaches: Kit & Jorge Vela
Soccer is life in the Vela household. When reading the accomplishments of both Kit and Jorge Vela, it is obvious that what they do, they do with passion and love, for the game of soccer and for the overall development of the children and young adults they coach. Both Velas believe in the “whole” player, which translates to the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of their players. They maintain a vested interest in their players and believe in creating a family environment. This biography is shown for experience and level of coaching and educational background. What is difficult to show on paper is their intensity, passion, and love for the game, which is expressed in their training sessions, camps, and clinics. Young players leave their environment with a better understanding of the game along with a higher level of technical ability – which is stressed at every session – in addition to a higher tactical understanding. Their players, at every level, are infused with passion and love for the game, while winning is secondary, and yet a byproduct of the level of training and care given every day.
Kit Vela, Co-Director
Kit Vela has been a pioneer in the women’s game, playing since she was a young girl in the 1970s. She was in one of the first groups to play AYSO in Southern California; one of the first groups to play competitive club soccer; one of the first groups to play ODP (then called State Select with only two age groups); one of the first groups to make a paper National Team pool; part of the first groups to be recruited and to play collegiate soccer (there were only 85 Division I teams in 1986 when she went to play, compared to the 327 DI programs now); part of the first groups of female coaches to coach competitively in club, then Division I; one of the first groups to believe in and practice the mental game of sport; and then one of the smallest groups to be a Division I head coach while also raising a family. Kit has continued to pave paths for the young female players of today.
Kit Vela was an assistant for 5 years at USC under head coach Jim Millinder, after serving as his assistant for 2 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 girls’ soccer coach for 3 years (1992-94) at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, CA. She led Bishop Montgomery to 3 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 as the first female coach in the top Premier Coastal soccer league.
Vela was a 4-year letter winner (1986-90) at Brown University in both women's soccer and softball. The soccer team made 3 NCAA tournament appearances, captured 4 Ivy League titles, and was ranked Top 12 in the country all 4 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 was 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. She then went on to earn a Masters Degree in Sport Psychology from Capella University in December 2010, while being a mother of 2 young children and holding a more-than-full time position as a Division I Head Soccer Coach. Formerly Kit Schwartzman, she married Jorge Vela in May of 1997. The couple has two sons: Paolo Andreas, born December 26, 2003, and Cristiano Matteas, born May 25, 2009.
After being recruited by Rudy Davalos and staff from USC, once Vela arrived in New Mexico in 2000, UNM quickly reaped the benefits of having a new head coach. Vela earned her first career head coaching victory in dramatic fashion on September 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 Brigham Young 1-0 in Albuquerque.
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 3-time defending conference champion BYU. 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'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 that the season would pose plenty of challenges because more than 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.
Then, in 2005, the winning mentality sunk in, and UNM had winning seasons in 9 of the next 10 years, with 2013 being a rebuilding season, and playing the toughest nonconference season against teams like North Carolina and Duke, away. Even in that season, lessons were learned, and the team went on to challenge the Championship up until the last weekend. Vela built the program to win the first two (ever) MWC Championships in 2010 and 2011; first-ever MW Tournament championship 2011 (which UNM hosted); and first-ever bids to the NCAAs in 2010 and 2011. She also developed and coached the first-ever two-time Offensive and Defensive Players-of-the-Year in 2010 and 2011. Additionally, from 2009-2014, for FIVE consecutive years, the Lobos were Top 3 in the conference. Furthermore, in 2014, Kit’s team went 4-0-1 on the road, which marked the first time in conference history that a Lobo team went unbeaten on the road (excluding neutral games) during a season.
Kit was the Head Coach at the University of New Mexico from 2000 to 2014. During that time, she had an overall record of 122-103-44; a .750 winning percentage from 2005-2014; 10-20 Academic All-Mountain West Conference (MWC) Scholars each season; 10 years of NSCAA Team Academic Awards; Top 5 Team in the West Region rankings; and MWC Coach of the Year awards in 2001, 2010, and 2014. Kit’s Athletes have enjoyed many successes that extend beyond the soccer pitch. One hundred percent of graduates from her program enter postgraduate programs or are hired in their respective city.
All of these accomplishments reveal Kit’s coaching breadth and depth of ability. Her knowledge and passion for the game are tremendous, and her players continue to reach out to Kit after graduation. In fact, Kit believes that her greatest professional achievements, above and beyond her incredible winning ability at a program that had never won before, are all of her graduates who have gone on to postgraduate programs, doctorate programs, or careers and have become confident women who still love the game of soccer and are giving back to the communities they live in.
Jorge Vela, Co-Director
Jorge Vela came to the United States as a top goalkeeper from his native country of Guatemala in 1988. At 19 years old, he had already been with the Guatemalan U20 and U23 teams and had signed a professional contract with Guatemalan First Division Comunicaciones. Unfortunately, civil war violence forced Jorge and his family to emigrate from Guatemala and they started a new life in Southern California. Jorge then played on the California State Western Regional Team and was on the Cal-South Under-23 team that won the 1993 national championship. From 1993-1998, he played professionally with the Valley Golden Eagles of the United States Interregional Soccer League.
One of the most renowned goalkeeper coaches in the United States, Vela is a director of the Vela Soccer Academy, which has produced some of the finest keepers in America. Prior to moving to New Mexico in 2001 and after serving as assistant women's soccer coach at Loyola Marymount in 1995, Vela spent 5 years as Head Goalkeeper Coach at USC (University of Southern California). He also spent two seasons (1993-94) as assistant men's soccer coach at Cal State Northridge and coached youth-level boys’ and girls’ club and high school teams since 1989. Individually, Vela coached and developed some of the top boy and girl goalkeepers to come out of Southern California. Such names as Shaelyn Fernandez (USC), Lauren Arase (National Champion at the University of Portland), Marco Palmieri (UC Berkeley), Elliot Farmer (UCI), amongst many others, both in the men’s and women’s game.
Jorge Vela then spent 14 years at the University of New Mexico as one of the finest assistants and goalkeeper coaches in the country. Vela was appointed as the top assistant upon arriving at UNM in December of 2000. After 8 seasons coaching with his wife, Kit Vela, at the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount, the duo made an incredible mark on the history of the UNM soccer program. With Jorge coaching the keepers, the Lobos established a solid reputation as a veritable goalkeeper factory, and UNM regularly had goalkeepers honored by the Mountain West.
The most decorated goalkeeper protégé at UNM was Kelli Cornell, who was a two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. The Lobos racked up 34 shutouts in the 3 years (with Cornell recording 33 of them), and UNM recorded a goals-against-average under 1.00 in each of her last 3 seasons. Cornell is also the winningest keeper in school history.
Jorge made an immediate impact in his first season by molding Shelly Hammock into the league's premier goalkeeper. Hammock earned first team all-conference honors for the first time in her career and also became the first goalkeeper in league history to be named MWC Player of the Week, following her 10-save performance in the Lobos' 1-0 shutout win at No. 12 Kentucky on September 30, 2001.
Vela coached 4-time MWC honoree Kristen Winters to notable success over her 4-year career. In 2002, Winters was named MWC Goalkeeper of the Year and went on to break several records at UNM. She finished her career as the all-time leader for wins with 28 and carries the record for most career shutouts with 25. Under the guidance of Vela, Winters developed into one of the top goalies in the conference and solidified herself as one of the best to come through the Lobos' program. Vela's influence was brought to the forefront in 2006 with the emergence of goalkeeper Shannon Adragna. Adragna earned second team All-MWC honors after recording a 0.80 goals-against-average, winning 8 games and posting 6 shutouts.
In all, UNM's top 3 winningest keepers, top 3 keepers in terms of shutouts, and the top 3 in goals against average, all played their entire careers under Jorge Vela.