By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Kendall Ellington had to be dragged onto the soccer field, now she has to be dragged off of it.
“I pulled her off the basketball court. She had never played soccer before in her life,” North Laurel coach Becki Woodworth said.
Woodworth was also an assistant basketball coach at the time. She needed a keeper, but Ellington wasn’t thrilled with the idea.
“She had harassed me for about a solid year and I kept telling her she was crazy,” Ellington said.
Ellington finally conceded that if her dad could be convinced by Woodworth to let her play, then she would.
“I never thought my dad would agree to it,” Ellington said. “At our basketball banquet, she pulled my dad to the side and told him she wanted me to play soccer. He was like, ‘O.K.’”
What Woodworth saw in Ellington was not soccer skills. Ellington had never been on a soccer field.
“I had never looked at a soccer ball. I had never watched a game,” Ellington said.
What she saw were intangibles, there was a fearlessness and also natural leadership ability.
“She is a born leader. All of the younger girls are immediately drawn to her. She is very charismatic,” Woodworth said. “They want to be Kendall. They want to be friends with Kendall. We will miss her more as a leader probably than as a player on the field.”
Leadership is a role Ellington takes as seriously as the game itself.
“It’s a completely natural thing,” Ellington said. “Even more so when a team feels like a family. It’s a lot easier to lead your sisters than it is to lead you teammates. It’s natural. I have that loud voice. I have that mentality of if things are going out of control; I like to keep them in control.”
Even when Woodworth got her on the field, Ellington wasn’t convinced it was where she wanted to be.
“The first time she tried to get me to dive, I looked at her and told her she was crazy. It was a new world to me. Throwing myself on the ground did not seem like something I wanted to do,” Ellington said. “Once I started to learn it, I started to like it more. Then I started to challenge myself to take it somewhere.”
Where it has taken Ellington is a career that includes being honored twice as All State, three times All District, and three times All Region. Now it is taking her to college.
It was in her first appearance at an All State game, her junior year, when Ellington realized she wanted to play in college.
“I was scared to death. I thought, ‘I’m not good enough to be here,’” she said. “When I was the only keeper to not get scored on I thought I could actually go somewhere with it,” Ellington said.
Union College coach Camila Mendes said she first heard about Ellington from an official calling a Union game.
“I said yeah, she’s playing for one of my old teammates,” Mendes said.
Woodworth and Mendes played together at Union, which both admit played a role in recruiting. But it is mostly Ellington’s skill as a keeper that earned her a scholarship.
“We just lost our starting and backup keeper. We truly believe that Kendall is going to do a good job as a freshman,” Mendes said.
Woodworth probably didn’t look this far ahead when she first pulled Ellington onto the soccer field. Now nothing Ellington accomplishes surprises her.
“Kendall is a winner. She’s going to win,” Woodworth said. “She is going to keep the ball out of the goal regardless. As she’s played, she’s developed the proper technique for doing so. She will continue to, because she’s too stubborn not to.”