Grass never grows under feet

Soccer: St. Mary's Ashly Kennedy hones her skills by going over the field again and again. Her boundless repetition keeps the senior a cut above the competition.

High School

September 24, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The orange cones were placed about 5 yards apart and, after completing a series of wind sprints, St. Mary's senior Ashly Kennedy went at them.

Soccer ball at her feet, an oh-so-familiar sight, the standout central defender craftily weaved her way around each obstacle - time and time again.

Kennedy wasn't dribbling around cones at practice for her high school team, the sixth-ranked Saints, winner of the past two Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference crowns. Nor was she working out with her nationally ranked club team, the Bethesda Dragons. A training session with the Olympic Development Program or the under-17 national pool camp? No and no.

"There's an open lot across the street from my house [in Mayo], and I was working on my endurance and then some ball skills," said Kennedy, a two-time first-team All-Metro central defender. She is also a team tri-captain and the starting point of the Saints' success the past few years.

The extra time Kennedy spends on her own is clearly evident every time she confidently settles a ball, coolly outmaneuvers an opponent and then connects a pass to a teammate.

That poise Kennedy brings in back, along with an overwhelming desire to succeed, is something the Saints heavily lean on.

"Ashly doesn't like to lose. She doesn't like to have anything negative go against her or her team. She's been the backbone of everything we've done the past four years," said St. Mary's coach Jerry Tobin.

The positive influence and mere presence Kennedy brings to the field doesn't go unnoticed by teammates.

"Ashly - she's in love with the game of soccer," said senior All-Metro midfielder Sarah Sample. "You watch her play and it inspires you to play better because she's so passionate about the game. She lifts the team's intensity and always wants everybody playing as hard as they can. How can't you when she's always going 100 percent?"

The Saints, who play host to seventh-ranked Notre Dame Prep on Thursday, are counting on that effort from Kennedy more than ever this season.

After going 21-1-1 last year, unbeaten in the demanding IAAM, the team has been hit hard with injuries in the early going this season, particularly on defense. The Saints lost senior standout Meghan Ryan for the season with a knee injury, and starting goalkeeper Marie Oben (broken nose) isn't due back until next week.

Last week, the Saints (5-2-1) lost more games - two - than all of last season, which bumped them from the top ranking in The Sun's poll. For Kennedy, a 5-1 loss to IAAM rival John Carroll was tough to take.

"I've never seen us play like that before, and it really hurt," she said. "This year, it has to be more of a team thing because we don't have as many individual-skilled players as before."

Soccer has taken Kennedy a long way since she began playing at the age of 7, but she chose to stay close to home when she orally committed to the University of Maryland in March over Florida State and Illinois. She wants her parents to be able to see her play in college, and her club coach, Steve Campbell, is a Terps assistant.

"My mom introduced me to soccer. I had my little pigtails in my hair and she's like, `Maybe you should give soccer a try,' " Kennedy said. "When I first got up there, I threw a fit because I didn't want to be out there, but it ended up coming pretty natural. Then I was like, `This is pretty cool.' "

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