NORMAN — Renae Cuellar always seems to have a smile on her face. Whether she is racing up the soccer field on her way to another goal for Oklahoma or finishing up a two-hour practice in the heat, she has the look of someone who enjoys what she does.
That smile hides the fierce competitive nature of the senior that comes out every time she walks onto a soccer field. It's an attitude Cuellar was taught at a young age and one she has carries with her every day.
“I've been playing since I was six years old,” Cuellar said. “And since I was six, my dad told me make sure you hit them first. I was always a bit thinner. Way thinner when I was younger. I've always followed that advice. I think it's more of a physical challenge to play against defenders who are always bigger than me. You hit them first, you get first to the ball, then they are not going to be able to get you off.
“I like to win balls and I like to get physical, get in there and have a little one-on-one time. “
Cuellar leads the Sooners (7-8-4, 3-3-2) into the 2012 Big 12 Championships today winners of three of their last four games. They will take on fourth-seeded Texas (7-10-1, 4-4) in the first round at Blossom Soccer Stadium in San Antonio.
The Longhorns defeated OU 1-0 earlier in the season. The Sooners trail in the all-time series 10-7-1.
Cuellar landed in Norman this summer, not many Oklahoma soccer fans knew who she was. In three short months, that has all changed. Since transferring from Arizona, the La Puente, Calif. native has become one of the most decorated players in the program's history. That includes being named Monday to the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
“For Renae to have a final season to remember is testament to her determination and drive,” said first-year OU head coach Matt Potter. “I'm sure she would be the first to thank the contribution of her teammates in accepting the awards. To be recognized around the conference by the other coaches speaks to her true endeavor, contribution and performances this fall. I am delighted for Renae.”
Cuellar leads the Sooners with 26 points from a team-high 12 goals, which ranks as the third-most in a single season in Oklahoma history. Her 13 points from six goals in eight Big 12 matches paces the conference.
Cuellar, who was selected to play with the Mexican National Team and wants to play in the World Cup, didn't know exactly what to expect when she made the move to Oklahoma. But she knew it would be different from the Pac-12 conference she had played in the previous three seasons.
“I think it has been a great change for me,” Cuellar said. “Obviously, a challenge as well. Just coming in and transferring in the summer and starting the season right away. But I think it's great to play against new teams. It's a nice change. When you play in a conference for so many years, you are kind of accustomed to who you are playing against. They know what you are doing. Coming in, it kind of throws off other teams. My style and just coming from a different conference and being a senior. It's a great change.”
Cuellar, said part of her success this year comes from the conference not being used to her style of play. She describes it as technical. Her coach said she just doesn't like to lose.
“I think, No. 1, Renee is a world-class player in her own right,” Potter said. “No. 2, she brings a competitiveness that is just relentless. She wants to win and she wants to win every day. That translates into the way she practices. That translates into the way she carries herself. Her standards are high. That sometimes upsets people. There is a reason she will have an opportunity to go represent her international team. It's for those reason. She is not willing to accept average. I firmly believe the harder you work, the harder it is to surrender. It comes back to that work ethic and obviously she brings it every day.”
Michael KinneyFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org