PLAYER TO WATCH: VCU FIELD HOCKEY'S KENDELL COMBS
In a society that is infatuated with an "all about me" culture that is rampant with "selfies", it's refreshing when a student-athlete spends the majority of an interview talking about making her teammates better and playing for a greater purpose than just herself. That's exactly what Kendell Combs did recently.
When Combs steps on the field on Sunday to begin her junior season with the VCU Field Hockey team, she'll be in a different place than she has been the past two seasons with the Rams.
That place is not only different physically, but also emotionally and mentally.
After spending much of her hockey career at the forward position, the VCU coaching staff approached Kendell about switching to the attacking center midfield position.
"The ACM (attacking center mid) is a key position on any hockey field and it's no different with us. It's really a position that controls the field, in terms of emotionally and ball control," VCU Head Coach Laura Baker said. "Most of our attack will go through the ACM at some point, and we'll look for that position to generate a lot of chances inside the circle for us. We really felt with Kendell's skill set that she could play a huge role in that position this fall for us."
While Combs has spent years as a member of the forward line, she's excited about the new position and the opportunities it presents.
"I'm really excited about the new challenge. I really love learning new things every day. I loved playing forward, but I'm enjoying the opportunity to set things up," Combs said. "I've been working a lot more on my communication, because in my new position, it's vital to have direct communication with everyone on the field. It also gives me the opportunity to push myself along with all my teammates."
Combs' knowledge of the game and eagerness to learn is something that has made the transition much smoother.
"Out of anyone, Kendell has a great hockey IQ and she's really eager to learn, which has made things a lot easier," Baker said.
Aside from changing locations on the field, Combs is entering her junior year with a new mindset, one that she says has helped her fall in love with the game more than ever before.
"When I step on the field now, I feel more at peace than I ever have before," Combs said. "I know that I'm playing for a greater purpose than just myself. I know that my hockey career is going to eventually come to an end and I know that my days are limited, which is why I continue to fall in love with the game more and more every day. There's two places that have become escapes for me, one is the hockey field and one is church. Those are the places that I feel the most at peace."
That peace will be critical as Combs and her teammates enter this season having lost five of their top six scorers from last year, including the program's all-time leading scorer in Kelsey Scherrer, a player who had a similar stature and playing style as Combs.
"I like the pressure. I know there's been comparison between Kelsey and I, but ultimately I want to be my own player and I really want to focus on making my teammates better around me so we can be the best unit we can possibly be," she said.
Baker also sees the pressure as an opportunity for Combs to take another step forward.
"I think that pressure is something that she can take and use for her advantage," Baker said. "It can be something that Kendell uses for motivation and can push her to be the player we know she can be for us. We did lose a lot of experienced players from last year, and this is a year that she'll be relied upon to step up."
Combs knows that there will be a transition period after losing such a talented group of seniors, but also knows that there's still plenty of opportunities for this current team to accomplish great things.
"It's been obvious in practice that we all need to step up our offensive game with Kelsey and that senior class leaving. I think it's natural for teams to go through some ups and downs when you're going through a transition phase, it somewhat happened after Marle and Flore [van Dessel," Combs said. "Obviously we all miss them and they had a huge impact on our program, but I think it's one of those things that could really drive us and motivate us even harder. It's making us upperclassmen realize how important the newcomers are and trying to push them because we need them to help fill holes that were left. We're only as strong as our weakest player, so I think if we push each other as a unit, we can accomplish great things."