Prior to becoming a stalwart for the Nevada women’s soccer team, just the thought of goalkeeper terrified Kendal Stovall.
Stovall got her first taste of action behind goal at just 9 years old for her local soccer club in Miliani, Hawai’i, which didn’t make for a memorable experience.
“I hated everything about it, I cried every game,” she said. “I didn’t even like thinking about goalkeeping, it wasn’t any fun for me. I loved scoring goals and being up front, but I was kind of alone in the back.”
Despite her rough start, Stovall began to hone her skills through various goalkeeper training programs. She hasn’t missed a single training since, which has translated to immediate success on the field with Nevada.
“Those trainings just built myself up to being the goalkeeper that I am now,” she said. “I’m thankful that I was forced to start goalkeeping at such a young age. I don’t know if I would be in the same position.”
Stovall’s name has already appeared in the Wolf Pack record books after a historic freshman year. She started all 19 games and logged 1,750 minutes last season, the fourth-most by a Nevada goalkeeper in a single season. Her 99 saves and .773 save percentage both ranked seventh in school history.
She posted three shutouts and was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week after blanking Weber State on Aug. 24. Stovall’s impressive freshman campaign opened some eyes along the way.
“It came across as a shock to me,” she said. “I just came into every game trying to keep the girls in it. Usually when I touch the ball it’s not a good thing. So being in the record books is a good thing and something we can work on since we have such a talented team.”
Her 2018-19 campaign didn’t come without its hurdles. It all began during Stovall’s first winter training with the team last season, where her physical and mental toughness shined the brightest.
“I remember her taking a point-blank shot straight to the face in goal,” assistant coach Parrissa Eyorokon said. “She had some bruising on her face and what looked like a black eye afterwards, but she brushed it off and prepared for the next shot.”
If that wasn’t enough, Stovall had her appendix taken out in the spring and was back training for this season. On the field, statistics and personal goals don’t matter as long as her performance helps the team win and improve as a whole.
“I’m hoping to do as well, but the numbers aren’t important,” Stovall said. “I hope I don’t touch the ball as much and that could help us throughout the season, which we have the talent to do.”
Stovall’s leadership qualities derived from several experienced upperclassmen on last year’s squad. A handful of seniors including Angel Meriwether, Bryanna Wiehe and Mackenzie Robinson took the freshman goalkeeper under their wing.
As a result, she’s made a positive impact on a young Wolf Pack soccer team with nine incoming freshmen. Stovall may not be involved in every play, but her voice and in-game adjustments carry from corner to corner.
“I made sure to make personal relationships with them and they’re still my friends to this day,” she said. “They showed me what it takes to become a good teammate and lead by example… Once they opened their mind to me, it felt like the rest of the team did and it’s carried on.”
Stovall is already off to a solid start to her sophomore season. She’s totaled 49 saves at a .831 save percentage and recorded her first shutout against Utah State on Sept. 30. The goalkeeper was awarded Mountain West All-Newcomer Team honors last season, but Stovall has her eyes set on making All-Conference First Team.
She would be the first member to make an All-Conference team since 2015 when Daisha Jones-Oglesby won All-Conference Honorable Mention.
“I definitely think it’s achievable,” Stovall said. “It will be a lot of hard work and dedication. But for me personally, that’s my number one goal. I want to be the best I can be and get those goals scored down to less than one a game and showcase what I’m capable of.”
At five feet nine inches tall, Stovall makes up for her lack of height with a unique blend of speed and athleticism.
Stovall credits her athletic traits back to her tenure at Kapalama High School, where she competed in track and field in 2014-15. That same speed and endurance is used in the box, and she makes sure to stay at the top of her game.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes with being a goalkeeper,” she said. “One of them is about the lack of speed. But I was told my entire life that the goalkeeper has to be the fastest and strongest person on the team… There’s a lot of different scenarios, but I have to stay on my toes and track and field helped give me that edge on the field.”
Since she arrived at Nevada, Stovall has made a substantial impact for the Wolf Pack. She’s battled offensive lulls, injuries and a few bumps along the way. But Stovall’s discipline to the process and immense skill helps make her presence felt on and off the field.
Eyorokon only sees an even brighter future ahead for the sophomore goalkeeper.
“She is highly competitive and that’s the type of player we were looking to recruit,” she said. “We want people that put it all on the line and she’s done that for us and so much more. Her impact on this team is immeasurable at points.”
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.