Kendall Donovan commits to UNH for lacrosse

Kendall Donovan flashes a smile. (provided by Kendall Donovan)

Racing down the field, she felt the pressure intensify. With her strong stick propped up high, she securely cradled the yellow ball. The eyes of the spectators were daunting, but her focus never faltered from the sturdy net in front of her.

Outsmarting her competition, she swiftly dodged her opponents, whose speeds diminished as their lungs cried out for oxygen. In the final seconds of the game, she knew the outcome. Hurling the ball into the net, junior Kendall Donovan scored the winning point for her team, crowning them tournament champions.

For Donovan, winning games has never been a rarity. With the support of her team, Donovan shines on the field, proving time after time that she is a valuable player.

Early in October, Donovan verbally committed to the University of New Hampshire (UNH) for their District One lacrosse program.

Athletes all across America find it a great accomplishment to be able to play for a university team. So for Donovan to commit to a D1 lacrosse program in her junior year of high school, many find her accomplishment extraordinary. According to Donovan’s mother, Stacey Donovan, Donovan’s commitment was no surprise.

When Kendall set her goal in eighth grade of wanting to play Division One lacrosse, we saw her determination, focus, and passion rise to a level that we didn’t think was possible. She became so laser-focused we knew nothing was going to stop her… Committing as a junior is the name of the game for Division One athletics,” Stacey Donovan said.

Donovan has been playing lacrosse since she was six-years-old. At the time, she also took an interest in ice hockey. Starting off slow, she attended group lessons for both lacrosse and ice hockey. However, as Donovan grew older, she knew she had to make a decision on which sport she would prioritize.

Young Kendall Donovan poses with her miniature lacrosse stick, unaware of her future successes. (provided by Kendall Donovan)

Even though she adores her connection with ice hockey, her heart belongs to lacrosse.

“I enjoy playing ice hockey for the school in the winter. Ice hockey is a great break from lacrosse and an excellent change of pace. However, lacrosse is my passion, which is why I chose to continue club lacrosse instead of club ice hockey,” Donovan said.

During middle school, Donovan’s lacrosse commitment started increasing substantially. Joining the club team Laxachusetts in eighth grade, she began putting more time and effort into lacrosse.

Although Donovan trained to excel in all aspects of lacrosse, she put special dedication into strengthening her midfield and defense technique. On her off-days, Donovan tries to squeeze in at least an hour of lacrosse practice or conditioning.

It is important that I stay fit and sharp. Even though high school is hard, I try to work on my technique or stamina every day, whether it is doing quick footwork drills, holding my stick and bouncing a ball, or running,” Donovan said.

Donovan has yet to succumb to the suffocating pressures that prey on high school athletes.

“I am not going to lie. It is hard. Balancing school and lacrosse, as well as my own free time, has never come easy. However, even though I have faced my fair share of obstacles, whether it be a hard skill or a gut-wrenching loss on the field, I have never lost my love for lacrosse. I think because I understand my priorities and the importance of lacrosse compared to the other facets of my life, I am able to deal with challenges,” Donovan said.

One of the biggest challenges Donovan faced was COVID-19. Because lacrosse is a spring sport at WA, Donovan did not get her sophomore season.

Since the last time Donovan played for WA’s Varsity Lacrosse Team was her freshman year and her club season was cut short due to the pandemic, Donovan grew anxious as she contemplated how college lacrosse recruiters would be able to assess her skills.

“I told myself that the pandemic is affecting everyone and that I need to chill. It is easy to get wrapped up in your head. I knew I was privileged and safe, and college recruitment was nothing compared to what so many in the world are facing… However, I was still worried how my high school and potential college lacrosse career could be negatively impacted,” Donovan said.

Donovan is grateful that she was able to play a few lacrosse games over the summer. Adhering to the outdoor protocols for sports games, Donovan stayed safe, while also showing off her abilities.

Kendall Donovan (middle; #14) stands proud with her team after the WA Girls’s Varsity Lacrosse team wins their game. (provided by Kendall Donovan)

Once Donovan familiarized herself with the recruiting process steps during a pandemic, she eagerly started reaching out to college programs. She created a page on the website Sports Recruits, so colleges could view her statistics.

“The process is rigorous. I had to take it on me to properly time manage myself. I sent out tons of emails, made videos about myself, skills, and  accomplishments, and spoke to tons of college coaches. I am grateful for my parents and coaches because they really helped me through the whole process,” Donovan said.

In September, UNH reached out to her. Donovan describes the moment she realized UNH was interested in her as a moment of pure ecstasy. Spending long hours on Zoom with multiple college coaches, Donovan felt the most comfortable with the UNH coaches, regarding the UNH program as a “perfect fit.”

“I remember receiving an email from them that left me in pure shock. Before, I didn’t think I was even on UNH’s radar. It was truly such a surreal moment,” Donovan said.

Aside from their D1 lacrosse program, UNH enticed Donovan because of the wide variety of academic programs the school offers. Right now, Donovan is leaning toward majoring in either business marketing or psychology.

“UNH stands out me because it is close to home. I am very close to my family, and I love New England. So, attending UNH makes sense location-wise. In terms of academics, I have not made a decision yet. Since I am a junior, I still have time to explore all the career paths I could possibly go into. One of the biggest reasons I chose UNH is they have great academic programs,” Donovan said.

Donovan considers her commitment as an enormous stress relief, yet she plans on still applying herself completely to her school work. In order to keep her commitment, Donovan must remain a good student, both academically and morally. Challenging herself in the classroom, Donovan intends to keep education as her main priority.

Donovan credits her parents for her D1 commitment. Understanding the money and countless hours that go into lacrosse fees, practices, and games, Donovan is grateful for the privileges and the support system in her life.

“Lacrosse became a part of our family and we never looked back. Countless hours have been spent and many sacrifices have been made from driving to practices and skills and traveling to weekend and showcase tournaments away. It’s been never-ending, but our family has loved and embraced every moment of watching Kendall do something that she loves and is so passionate about,” Stacey Donovan said.

Donovan attributes her tenacity, confidence, work ethic, time management skills, and strong teamwork to lacrosse. Her private coach Kristen Kjellman believes Donovan has a bright future ahead of her.

Kendall didn’t start on the A-team, but she didn’t let that discourage her. She worked her way up and proved that it doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you go from that starting point… She has a tremendous work ethic, she is able to process feedback quickly, and she has an infectious positive energy. Some of her best tangible strengths include her speed, athleticism, her lefty dodges, and her aggressiveness,” Kjellman said. 

Providing Donovan with lifelong friendships and qualities, Donovan has learned a myriad of lessons from lacrosse. According to her Laxachusetts teammate Faith Bolduc, Donovan is a true force to be reckoned with, in all aspects of her life.

“On and off the field, Kendall has inspired me to be the best version of myself… When I think about what makes Kendall special, I think about all of the times that she has been a catalyst to our team’s success, and a reliable friend,” Bolduc said.

Donovan looks forward to the future while still understanding that so much of the future is unknown.

“The dream is to play lacrosse for the national team, but my main goals right now are to make amazing friends, have a blast playing lacrosse for UNH, learn as much as I can, and explore my potential,” Donovan said.