May 23, 2008

In face of team adversity, Kendall crushed program records

Like most Chicago students, fourth-year Koryn Kendall was drawn to Chicago by the University's academic record and certainly not by its dominant sports programs.

When Kendall committed to becoming a Maroon, volleyball was in the midst of a 7-29 season, and the middle hitter saw the team as a positive group where she fit in, not as a vehicle for athletic dominance.

"I had wanted to apply to the U of C since sophomore year," Kendall said. "I was initially attracted to the school for its academic prestige, but I have been involved in athletics since I was very young, and I knew my college experience would not be the same without it. Once I met the girls and the coach, I knew it was the place for me."

Ironically, the Napa, CA, native, whose priorities set academics above athletics, would go on to be one of the most overpowering athletes in volleyball's program history.

As a first-year, Kendall's impact was immediately felt. A solid bench player, she led the team in attack percentage, hitting 31 percent as the squad battled to its first winning season in eight years.

Entering the rotation full-time in her second year, the middle hitter became a force to be reckoned with behind the net, attacking at her career-high clip of 39 percent while posting a team-leading 350 kills on the season. On her way to becoming the most dominant blocker in Chicago history, Kendall led the team in blocks (54), block assists (73), and total blocks (127).

Her spot at the top of the charts wasn't going away. Kendall led the squad in at least one attacking or blocking category for each of her final three years and was an All-UAA honorable mention or second-team selection for three seasons in a row.

Unfortunately, Kendall was faced with the problem of watching her team struggle while her game improved individually. While the Maroons posted a 20-14 record in her rookie season, they had slumped to a 6-29 mark in the fall of 2006.

Despite the slow season, the squad managed to pull off a surprise fifth-place finish at the UAA Championships. With promising new recruits on the way and an energizing preseason trip to China scheduled for the summer, Kendall's senior season was looking up, and the Maroons entered the year hoping for a breakout.

However, a rash of injuries and other departures from the roster quickly dashed Chicago's dreams and left Kendall alone in her leadership position as captain and the team's lone senior. Even when she broke the all-time blocks record and passed 1,000 kills, the Maroons suffered a 1-3 weekend in the UAA Round Robin and it was becoming clear that Kendall's record-breaking season would be the upside of an otherwise tough year for the South Siders.

"It was frustrating," Kendall said, "but not in the way you would think. I was more frustrated because I always felt there was something more that I could do to help the team win. I never felt like I was doing enough. But being a good athlete and a good team is not always about the record; there is so much more to it. There is no way I could have had my individual success without the constant support and effort of my teammates."

In this unselfish light, Kendall downplays her personal efforts, speaking modestly despite the fact that she will graduate first all-time in total blocks and block assists with 389 and 244, respectively, and second all-time in kills and solo blocks, with 1,135 and 145.

"It felt pretty good to do that," Kendall said. "It will be cool to have my name in the hall of records at Ratner for a while."

Without deep postseason runs or conference championships to fall back on, Kendall's biggest memories are the sort that brought her to the program in the first place: the squad's personality.

"I'm going to miss the laughter," Kendall said. "No matter what the outcome of the game was, I could always find something to be happy about with my team. They have been my family away from home for these past four years, and I'm going to miss having them around."

Graduating with a degree in public policy, Kendall is pursuing a career in human resources.