Releases

For Immediate Release: September 20, 2010
Contact: John Hartrick (hartrick@binghamton.edu)
Phone: 607-777-6800

Coming into her own
Senior women's soccer captain Leora Kenney emerges as leader on and off field

bu bearcats Senior center back Leora Kenney has experienced the full spectrum of "highs" and "lows" during her four-year career with the women's soccer program. What sets her apart from so many others is that she learns from the "lows" and thrives on the "highs" - and always with a smile on her face.

Kenney came to BU in 2007 as a highly-decorated defender from the Syracuse area. As a freshman, she played in 18 of 19 games for the Bearcats, who struggled to a three-win season. She was young, and admittedly nervous and tentative on the soccer field.

Injury ignites leadership role
As a sophomore, Kenney cracked the starting lineup and her Bearcats upset UMass in overtime in the season opener and began the season with a 4-1 record. Kenney's season, however, came to a crashing halt after three games when she tore the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in her right knee. But it was from the sidelines that Kenney drew greater personal resolve and began to make a significant impact on the program - an impact she continues to have as a senior captain and starter on the back line this fall.

"Leora has developed and matured into a leader on our team," head coach Sarah McClellan said. "She has had her fair share of challenges and obstacles; she has dealt with injury and long recovery; she has been a starter, a reserve player, an injured player. I think because of this, she understands the importance of team and appreciates the variety of roles and contributions that make up a team."

bu bearcatsAs any athlete can attest, the most difficult time in a sports career is after sustaining an injury, particularly a season-ending one. Suddenly the player's role is unclear and somewhat irrelevant to the daily goals of the team. There is detachment, frustration, doubt, jealousy and all the while, the athlete faces a lengthy rehabilitation that is taxing, both physically and mentally. Many athletes, from scholastic to professional, never fully recover from injuries and regain past form or commitment. This was a crossroads of sorts for Kenney.

"I learned a big lesson that year," Kenney recalled. "When I had to redshirt with the knee injury, it taught me how to be a good team member even when I couldn't be on the field or running with the girls at practice. I grew up a lot that year and learned how to step outside myself to help motivate and encourage the team."

With Kenney contributing from the sidelines, the 2008 team bumped its win total up to eight and reached the America East semifinals for the second straight year. Her commitment was evident in the way she took on her rehabilitation.

"Two of my teammates also hurt their knees that season so I had a support system right away," she said. "We did rehab together and got daily treatment and then we did everything we could to stay involved, including decorating the locker room before big games. It was hard to stay involved at practice, especially when we weren't allowed to run or play around with a ball. I think we all realized the best way to stay connected with the team was to support them vocally from the sidelines."

And thus a leader was born.

"Leora has developed into a great communicator and encourager on the field," McClellan said. "That makes players around her want to do their best and play hard."

bu bearcats Character evident during record-breaking 2009 season
Back from her rehabilitation last fall, Kenney still wasn't able to gain minutes on the field and played just one game during BU's successful nine-win campaign that ended with a berth in the America East title game. Now fully embracing a team-first attitude, however, Kenney instead made her contributions in practice and in sideline support.

"One of my best soccer memories is that team making it to the America East finals," she said. "No one expected us to get as far as we did and coming in second showed how hard we worked."

Kenney's coaches and teammates took notice of her hard work and presented her with the "Team Character Award" after the season.

Running parallel with Kenney's determination on the soccer field is her focus and commitment in the classroom. A psychobiology major with a 3.24 grade-point average, she is pursuing a career as a physician's assistant with a concentration in orthopedics. In addition to her school work and full-time soccer commitment, Kenney has volunteered time on campus (research assistant, tour guide) and in the community (nursing home assistant). Her dedication to academics and drive to succeed impressed Heidi Thirer, a registered nurse and health and wellness instructor at Binghamton.

"Leora was an outstanding student who excelled in all her work..she had the confidence to be an active participant in class discussion, yet was respectful of other students' opinions," Thirer said. "When listening to Leora discuss her desire to be a physician's assistant, her volunteer experiences at the nursing home and her leadership experiences as a captain of her soccer team, her passion and compassion was evident and she certainly understands the need to be a 'team player.' She is also resourceful and focused in achieving her goals."

Kenney received similar compliments from her academic advisor.

"Leora is a bright, hard working student who manages to balance a demanding soccer schedule with a lengthy academic major and to prepare for admission to Physician Assistant Programs on top of that," said Thomas Langhorne, Jr., Ph.D.; Pre-Health Professions Advisor. "She is friendly, cheerful and can effectively communicate with a variety of people. Her career goals became focused after suffering the soccer injury and she has diligently pursued preparation for Physician Assistant Programs since that time."

Now in her senior season, Kenney's leadership role has expanded to include captain and starting center back distinction. Her team value was already high as a role player, captain and leader, but her performance on the field, now as a starter, has been icing on the cake.

"Leora has developed and matured into a leader on our team," McClellan said. "She's always been someone the players want to spend time with ... she's just fun to be around. But she's matured in her outlook and perspective throughout the years and really grown into an exceptional leader. Now she's someone the players look up to and want to emulate."

"We have quite a few leaders on the team," she said. "Being selected as a captain was an honor and it motivates me to work nonstop to continue to help our team stay determined and positive."

Her positive energy is infectious, as teammates can attest.

"Leora's positive leadership has put her in the position to be a starter for our team and have a great presence on our back line," junior Taylor Kucharski said. "Her attitude inspires players on our team because they know if they show the same energy, it will definitely impact our team in a positive way."

bu bearcats A love for the intricacies of soccer
Kenny's approach to the game of soccer and its team mentality is refreshing. She celebrates the sport's attributes such as its slow build-up of an attack and the many-parts-working-toward-a-common-goal approach.

"People don't realize how much work goes into scoring a goal," she said. "The whole team has to put in the effort required to get the ball in the back of the net. The players on the bench help out more than anyone realizes as well. Positive encouragement and good instruction from your teammates on the sidelines can take the game to a whole new level. The best part of soccer is knowing you have your teammates on and off the field, challenging you in practice, supporting you in everything you do and helping you be the best person you can be."

But don't mistake the cheering and encouraging team player with someone who doesn't have the physical skills and mental toughness to battle in what has become a very technical and full-contact sport at the Division I level. Along with a willingness to challenge opposing forwards with hard-nosed defending, Kenney also has embraced McClellan's cerebral approach to the game.

"Coach has helped me improve my mental game," Kenney said. "She taught me that soccer isn't just about doing, it's about thinking ahead and knowing the correct thing to do, especially as a defender. Predicting what a forward is going to do is a lot easier when you're focused and paying attention to body language. Reading cues from midfielders can help you tell if a long ball is going to be played or if the forward you're marking is going to make a checking run."

That commitment to detail and mental approach have been the cornerstone of McClellan's quick turnaround of the BU program and nobody has embraced the challenge more than Kenney.

"Leora has demonstrated that our attitude is a choice," McClellan said. "She has made the choice to persevere through life's challenges and to do so with a smile. Since she has had many struggles throughout her career, she does not take anything for granted ... she sets out to make the most of each day and to enjoy each moment. We can all learn a great deal from the example she has set in her attitude and positivity."

In a sport that requires a base of individual dedication but demands a team-first approach, Kenney has been the standard. With her impeccable character, sharp intellect and ultra-positive approach, she will no doubt continue to set the standard in her life's pursuits.

And do so with a smile on her face.

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