Girls soccer: Hennelly carrying on family tradition in Downers Grove

  • Downers Grove North's Kendall Hennelly passes the ball during their soccer game at Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

    Downers Grove North's Kendall Hennelly passes the ball during their soccer game at Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

Updated 5/7/2021 8:08 AM

Downers Grove North junior Kendall Hennelly is always up for a challenge, whether it is playing a new position or following in the footsteps of a local legend.

Hennelly is the eldest daughter of Kip Hennelly, who is widely regarded to be the best athlete produced by Downers Grove South.


Kip Hennelly, a member of South's Athletic Hall of Fame, was a three-sport star for the Mustangs, quarterbacking the football team to two conference championships, winning a state championship in wrestling and qualifying for the state finals in track. He later was a four-year starting quarterback at Indiana State.

While no one is comparing Kendall Hennelly to her father, she is making her own mark, but in a different sport. She has been a starter for Downers North's soccer team since her freshman year, first at outside back and now at center midfield, which is a new position for her.

"I definitely enjoy center mid," said Kendall Hennelly, who plays outside mid for her club team, Joga Bonito. "Club is a little more different because of how my team plays. We try to bring it out to the wings more and I can dribble.

"But playing center mid, I feel like I have more control over the field and I can distribute balls and take my chances with my dribbling and still use my defensive skills to attack players."

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Veteran Downers North coach Brian Papa made the switch in order to boost his offense by taking advantage of Kendall Hennelly's natural aggressiveness.

"She's going to be seen," Papa said. "She's got the talent and she can learn.

"It's a process, because being talented and distributing the ball are two different things. But she likes to take people on and she's very technical."

That began at an early age. Kendall played a variety of sports growing up, including basketball, tennis, softball and track, but soccer was the one that stuck.

"I started park district soccer and I just fell in love with the competition and my teammates," she said. "I'm definitely more of a 'get dirty' girl rather than pom-poms, though poms are not a bad thing at all."


Kendall's passion for soccer started a new family tradition. Her sisters Katelyn and Kamryn also play. Katelyn is a sophomore who plays on North's sophomore team, while Kamryn is in sixth grade.

With no sons to play football, Kip Hennelly quickly got on board the soccer bandwagon.

"Admittedly soccer was not on my radar growing up," Kip Hennelly said. "But as soon as she got involved, and my other two as well, I was obsessed with it."

Joga Bonito director of coaching Dan Campione requires parents who want to help out coaching their children to get an IWSL coaching license, which Kip Hennelly did after completing a weekend seminar.

"I really enjoyed the weekend," Kip Hennelly said. "It's funny, I did know about soccer but I didn't realize how much I didn't know about coaching.

"You can tell coaching has gotten so much better over the years. People really know what they're doing now, especially at the club level and the younger ages. They understand coaching techniques."

While Kendall Hennelly knew that her mom, Kristin, and dad both graduated from Downers South, she didn't realize the extent of Kip's renown until her eighth-grade graduation, when people started asking if the two are related.

"At the time I wasn't really out there in the community, known as like an athlete yet, because I was still young," Kendall Hennelly said. "Now though, putting the pieces together, my best friends, my family friends, they all know the relationship me and my dad have.

"There's always a little rivalry between us, like North-South, but ultimately he supports me and wants North to do well. Of course, he wants to South to do well, too, but he's big on family."

Soccer has become a family affair for the Hennellys. Kip said that the sport has been good for Kendall, who inherited his competitiveness along with the athleticism.

"She's always been competitive," Kip Hennelly said. "When she was young, she'd get upset if she lost a board game.

"Coach Dan has really channeled that competitiveness. His philosophy is that if you're winning too much at a young age you're not going against the right competition,s o your win-loss record should be about .500 when you're learning.

"I was worried about how is she going to deal with that when she had a hard time losing a board game. But her team ended up winning a lot."

Yet talent alone does not explain Kendall Hennelly's success.

"She has a lot of natural ability but she definitely works hard," Kip Hennelly said. "She's very motivated. She's always trying to succeed and she's a real self-starter."

Kendall Hennelly, who is an honor roll student, wants to emulate her father's success but doesn't feel pressured.

"I definitely want to make him proud," she said. "He's been there for me my entire life and throughout sports he's always supported me, no matter what I've wanted to do, even if it's try a completely different sport.

"He fell in love with soccer as soon as I started really loving it. I definitely take into account that he was the best and I definitely try to be up there."

Kip Hennelly humbly pointed out that it's been a long time since his athletic heyday and doesn't know how many people are aware of his career. All he wants is for his daughters to be happy and get the most out of their ability.

"He always says there is always somebody better than you," Kendall Hennelly said. "One day I was going to go running but it was raining and I said, 'No, I'll do it tomorrow.'

"But my dad said, 'You know, people in Florida don't have the rain so they are working.' So I went for the run."

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