Walk-on works into soccer lineup
Oct. 24, 2012
by Chris Weinman
Playing soccer for Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., Kendra Hendrix was a captain for coach Oscar Lung'aho's Tigers and was named the team's most valuable player in her senior season. She was recruited by a number of schools, but when a prospective scholarship offer from the University of Memphis fell through, Hendrix decided to attend Vanderbilt University.
The summer before her freshman year, Hendrix attended Vanderbilt Soccer Camp. She anticipated trying out for the team in the fall, but the Commodore coaching staff had not seen enough to invite her to join the squad that semester. They suggested she come back in the spring for a proper tryout.
So Hendrix began her collegiate career like 95 percent of Vanderbilt's undergraduate population--not as a varsity student-athlete, but simply a student. She joined Alpha Phi Omega, the nation's largest service fraternity, and spent time volunteering with SPEAR (Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility).
Her desire to give back and "help other people build themselves up" led her to a major in public policy studies, which she hopes will lead to a future career with a non-profit.
Her desire to continue playing soccer led her to join the women's club team at Vanderbilt.
"Just being a regular student, I had so much time and I missed the game," Hendrix said. "I love the girls [on the club team], but it wasn't as intense as I wanted it to be."
In February of her freshman year, Hendrix began her formal tryout with the varsity team. Then an assistant coach, Derek Greene noticed that Hendrix had great soccer instincts.
"She reads the game really well," Greene said. "She's a step ahead of everyone on the field. She sees players stepping to her really well, she understands where to cut the ball, where to pass the ball. She had all these really intangible things. It's great when you get a player like that because all you're trying to do is refine them."
Matching the level of the soccer played in the Southeastern Conference was the biggest transition for Hendrix. Greene has tried to draw out the intensity that Hendrix noticed lacking in the club game, adding a physical element to match her mental acuity.
"I'm more of a tactical player," Hendrix said. "Derek said I needed to become stronger and tackle more. That wasn't my style of playing, so I've had to change that a little. That was the biggest difference."
Away from the field, the transition to becoming a Commodore also had its challenges for Hendrix. Her spring semester tryout showed her that the time commitment required for becoming a varsity student-athlete was extreme.
"I remember going back to my room always just wanting to go to sleep because we had morning workouts and then we had practice," Hendrix said. "I felt like I never had time to see any of my friends or do homework. You have to learn how to manage your time."
All of the hard work paid off for Hendrix, who was offered a place on the team at the end of spring workouts. But exactly where she would fit in for Greene, who was named interim head coach before the 2011 season, was unclear. Hendrix played forward for Central, but was a defender on her club team, the ASC Cougars.
Playing up front for the Commodores, Hendrix says she "didn't do great." So in practice Greene began to use her in the back more often than not. When starter Taylor "Tex" Richardson was sidelined due to injury, Greene had no hesitation in moving Hendrix into the lineup. Her first collegiate start came against LSU and she played all 103 minutes of Vanderbilt's double-overtime victory.
She would start six consecutive games to end the season and was named the team's most improved player by a vote of her peers. Through it all, Hendrix refused to let her participation in athletics be to the detriment of her academic career. Her efforts in the classroom were rewarded with recognition on the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
Now Hendrix is no longer satisfied with finding her way onto the field. Her aspirations include finding the ball in the back of the net.
"I really want to score," Hendrix said. "My goal before the end of this year is to score a goal."
Coach Greene believes that her ability matched with his team's style of play could make that dream a reality.
"When you look at our outside backs, they're both athletic, both good on the ball," Greene said. "There's no doubt in my mind, the way we play, it lends itself to the outside backs getting involved in the attack and allowing them to score points."
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