“My stick skills were horrendous, so they put me in goal. No one really wanted to play goalie, and I had good footwork, so it just kind of fell into place really nicely.”
That is how senior Alex Botte, co-captain and starting goalkeeper on the Cornell field hockey team, describes her entry into field hockey during her sophomore year of high school. Nonetheless, she has been a keeper for the Red in both senses of the word since she arrived on campus four years ago.
Hailing from Carlsbad, California — not exactly a renowned field hockey town, according to head coach Donna Hornibrook — Botte was first noticed by assistant coach Mary McCracken at a Cornell camp. The Californian was among a number of players who had expressed interest in the program; however, Hornibrook believes Botte’s attendance at the camp separated her from the pack.
“Once we had a chance to work with her, get to know her and get a glimpse of her potential and competitiveness, there was no question in our minds that she was the player that we wanted,” Hornibrook said.
Botte served her first two seasons as the backup goalkeeper to Melanie Jue ’09. Despite playing only one complete game and a total of 117 minutes during her freshman year, Botte impressed enough to earn the Class of ’91 Cup at the end of the season —given to the player on the team with the most promising future.
But it wasn’t until last season, her junior year and first campaign as the starting goalie, that she posted a breakout year. Playing in all but nine minutes of the season, Botte posted 11 wins (two shutouts), while allowing 1.77 goals per game and achieving a .726 save percentage. The 11 wins tied the most in a season by a goalie in school history. While goals allowed per game and save percentage are two statistics that testify to Botte’s individual goaltending skills, she believes the wins are very much a reflection of the entire team.
“It’s really great to be able to leave a legacy at Cornell … But at the same time, these records — they really don’t show a lot about me — they’re more about the whole team,” she said.
This season, Botte has earned only five wins and has allowed 2.34 goals per game, but she has a better save percentage than last season at .745. Botte has a chance to set the school’s career wins record for a goalie (20) with two more games to play.
According to sophomore Carolyn Horner, the other goalkeeper on the team, Botte’s quickness makes her such an exceptional goalie. Senior forward and midfielder and fellow captain Olivia Boyd agrees.
“She has really impressive foot speed and is a really agile goalkeeper. She kind of plays with a style that no one else we’ve faced plays with,” she said.
In addition to her duties in goal, Botte is serving as one of the team captains this season. Boyd believes Botte’s approachability is one of the qualities that makes her such an effective leader. For example, Botte went out of her way early in the season to have lunch with the younger girls on the team.
“She makes everyone feel a part of the team and is one of the main reasons our team is so close this year,” said freshman back Alaina Skalski.
Sophomore forward Hannah Balleza also noted Botte’s motivational character.
“She encourages everyone else to step up and be leaders on the team … There have been times when she’s told me that I can step up and be more vocal on the field.”
Balleza and her teammates also expressed how Botte’s humor makes her a great person to be around, in addition to a strong leader.
“She knows when it’s time to play and when it’s time to goof off,” Balleza said.
Botte will leave another legacy as well. Arguably her most important leadership role this season has been grooming Horner to be the main goalkeeper for the team next season.
“I think Alex has been a good role model to Carolyn in many ways and pushed her to improve,” Hornibrook said.