Kendal Chmielewski was only 12 years old, but she felt like a middle-aged worker who quit their job without having a future plan in mind.
“I played softball my whole life,” Chmielewski said. “And then I stopped playing when I was 12 and didn’t know what to do with my life.”
Fortunately, that funk didn’t last long and she didn’t wander the streets aimlessly.
“I saw a bunch of my friends playing lacrosse and I thought ‘Why not try it?’” Chmielewski said. “I tried it, as soon as I got my first stick it just felt right.”
Suddenly, she knew exactly what to do with her life as the Robbinsville High junior has thrown herself full force into the game. She enhances her talent with her mind, which is pretty sharp as witnessed by a 3.7 grade point average.
“I just love watching videos,” she said. “I follow a lot of the USA women players on Instagram and see what they do and just try to bring it to my game.”
It is a game with few flaws, which is why Robbinsville coach Jennamarie Colicchia has a player she can mix and match on the field, depending on her needs.
“She’s pretty versatile,” Colicchia said. “We have her playing all ends of the field depending on the game. She brings a pretty intense energy out there. If there’s anyone that has that killer instinct, it’s her. That’s something, as a coach, we look to build on, because that kind of energy makes everyone else want to be on the field.”
Although Chmielewski considers herself a defensive player first and foremost, she is hardly one-dimensional. In her first year of varsity lacrosse as a sophomore, Chmielewski had 15 goals, which was third on the team behind Hannah Shea and Molly Horner. She was second to Shea in draw controls with 44.
“Lacrosse is the only sport that after you score it goes back to a 50-50 draw,” Colicchia noted. “So to have those possessions off the draw is really crucial.”
Like most players, Chmielewski had her growing pains when first starting out. Fortunately, she was aided by her athletic background.
“When I first started it was obviously a process,” she said. “But I felt like softball helped me out with catching, and I used to play soccer so that helped with running around. It kind of all made sense because it was all athleticism. I just had to get used to catching the ball and learning to cradle and all that. It’s kind of weird at first but as soon as I got used to it, it was so much fun.”
When Chmielewski began playing club, they put her on defense, which is where she remained up until high school.
“I played offense for like one year, and then my coach told me to try defense,” Chmielewski said. “So when I went to my club team the first year I tried defense and ended up falling in love with it. There’s something different about just stopping someone while they’re coming down. I like having the moment of someone coming down the field and I have to stop them. I like the physicality of it, I like pressuring the girls.”
Which is a trait not often found in players.
“It’s hard to find kids that want to play defense,” Colicchia said. “You’re never in the newspaper as much, they’re not willing to be the girl that does the dirty work.”
Chmielewski was an unpolished gem when she arrived at Robbinsville and played JV in ninth grade.
“When she was a freshman she had that boy cradle, where she held it down low,” Colicchia said. “We had to get it out of her and she got rid of it.”
Upon arriving on the varsity scene last year, Chmielewski was sort of a midfielder. The reason it’s “sort of”, is that Colicchia said, “Sometimes she’ll just stay defense or just stay attack.”
It was a whole new world for Chmielewski, who suddenly found herself part of the offensive flow as well as defending.
“After I became a defender I always thought of myself as a defender,” she said. “But when I got moved to midfield it was a whole different thing. I tried to do my best. I used my defensive knowledge. As a defender, I knew what I wanted to do to stop someone, so I thought about what I would do defensively and try to figure out how to beat that on offense.”
Chmielewski has worked tirelessly on her shot, which is fast. She uses a ladder to work on her footwork and is continually honing her dodges.
“I like moving the ball quick,” she said. “So if someone moves the ball quick to me I kind of get the defenders on their heels. I was really proud of myself for getting the numbers up there. I proved to myself that the work paid off. I was really proud of myself for making midfield. I wanted to be in basically every single play and help my team out the best I could.”
If the spring season does not get wiped out by coronavirus precautions, Colicchia is looking for more well-rounded performance from Chmielewski.
“She’s an aggressive, scrappy player,” the coach said. “Last year it was like ‘I’m ready, put me anywhere!’ and she just went crazy on the field.
Now she’ll be in more of a leadership role after having a starting varsity season under her belt. She’s really honed in on a lot of her skills. I’m looking for a more chiseled player this year. She has the aggression, now I’m looking for the consistency.”
Although college is two years away, Chmielewski already has her sights set on playing after high school.
“I’m looking to play Division III, but it doesn’t matter as long as I can play,” she said. “I just want to play the game that I love. I just love the dedication it takes and the standards I have to live up to playing the game.”