Kornell Hilliard sets goals and gets goals.
He’s been hitting the mark as well as anybody in the country this season while contributing to a hot start for the Spalding University men’s soccer team.
Hilliard, a junior forward, said that he set the goal before the season of trying to lead all of 411-team NCAA Division III in total goals and total points, and so far – like many of his shots – Hilliard looks to be right on target.
Entering the weekend, Hilliard’s 10 goals for Spalding (7-1) tied for third-most in D-III, and his 23 points (two points per goal, plus a point per assist) tied for No. 2. For part of the past week, he led both categories. Among all three NCAA divisions, only five total players entered the weekend with more goals than Hilliard, and only four had more points.
“Since I got here, that’s what I’ve been striving to do – try to get as many points and help my team out as much as I can,” said Hilliard, a former Fern Creek High School star. “I think I’ve achieved that so far, and hopefully I’ll get more.”
Hilliard, the current St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week, has been especially effective the last two weeks, scoring seven goals in Spalding’s last four games. That included his second career hat trick in a 4-1 victory over Earlham.
His most recent goal – on an overtime penalty kick – won the game for Spalding at Hanover, 1-0, on Tuesday. That was the Golden Eagles’ first victory in that series since 2015.
“Statistically, to be producing the way he is, it’s a testament to his ability, but it’s also a sign of where he’s at right now from a leadership standpoint and a confidence standpoint,” Spalding coach Adam Boyer said of Hilliard. “He just seems to be getting better and better every game, and it’s awesome to see for him because I know he has a lot of personal goals in mind with being as successful as he’s being and producing statistically like he is. It’ll be exciting to see him both accomplish some of those individual goals and help the team accomplish its team goals.”
At 6 feet 1, 170 pounds, Hilliard’s size and athletic ability can be a handful for defenders. Hilliard said the pace at which he runs onto the ball has been the biggest contributor in his execution, and he said he’s confident in his shot-making skill and the ability to curl balls past the keeper.
In addition, he and Boyer both said Hilliard’s fitness is at an all-time best. Hilliard is second on Spalding in minutes played and is averaging nearly 87 minutes per game.
In the offseason, “I trained way more than I’ve trained the other years,” said Hilliard, who played in the Premier Development League over the summer. “I was training every day, playing soccer every day, making sure I got touches every day.”
Being a prolific goal scorer is nothing new for Hilliard, who scored a remarkable 52 goals in leading Fern Creek to the state semifinals as a senior in 2015. He said that season gave him the confidence that he could succeed at the college level.
He was right. He had 11 goals and six assists as a freshman in 2016, then had 15 goals and seven assists last year, when he was named to the United Soccer Coaches NCAA All-Central Region third team.
“Now that we have a little perspective, he was one of the biggest recruits we’ve ever gotten,” Boyer said. “I think it’s great when you have a guy who grew up in Louisville, committed his youth soccer career to playing in Louisville, represented a Louisville high school and helped a program like Fern Creek get … to a Final Four. Then he gets to go and represent his local university. I think that’s as cool as it gets. … The fact that he’s a local player who has that history here in Louisville makes him even stronger and better when he steps on the field.”
Hilliard, who hopes his success at Spalding will inspire his younger brothers to believe they can become college athletes, too, said he’s enjoying the camaraderie and chemistry of the Golden Eagles.
They are flying high, riding a three-game winning streak into Sunday’s final nonconference game at Centre College. Spalding has had three straight SLIAC Offensive Player of the Week winners, with Mani Bakari, Abnel St. Fleur and now Hilliard.
“This is a really good group of guys, and they all bring something to the table that you need to win,” Hilliard said. “When we play, we all know we need to hold each other accountable, and we all know that we’re there for each other and have each other’s backs.”
Next Saturday, Spalding will open SLIAC play by hosting defending league tournament champion Westminster at 3 p.m. at Champions Trace Park. Boyer said he has viewed the nonconference schedule as a chance to build momentum and confidence heading in league play.
“It’s really encouraging that we are playing well and winning as we enter the most important part of the season,” Boyer said. “We know from a mental standpoint, the guys are in a good spot and have good self-belief and believe in their ability to go out and win games. Hopefully we can take all this positive momentum from the first half of the season and carry it into conference.”