Eleven softball players got sick with norovirus in the first week of the spring semester. Kendra took care of all of them.
“Kendra is literally running back and forth and back and forth across campus,” Murray said. “Going to Smoothie King, getting people help. It was unbelievable.”
“And to top it all off, she didn’t get sick.”
Things haven’t always gone according to plan for Kendra since she arrived at UNC. She wasn’t expecting to spend the night at the hospital with her teammates on that January day, and she didn’t expect to lead the ACC in innings pitched as a junior when she signed as a hitter out of high school.
But Kendra doesn’t mind. She’s going to do whatever her team needs.
“She’s the first person you should call if something goes wrong,” DeBerry said.
Kendra knew she had a shot to play collegiate softball in eighth grade, when she started getting interest from local schools in Indiana. There was just one problem.
“They all wanted her to pitch,” said Rob Lynch, Kendra’s father. “And she wasn’t interested.”
Kendra pitched on her travel team, the Indiana Magic, but she preferred hitting to pitching. Her left-handed bat, which could hit for power, was also a valuable asset in the college game.
“I tend to lean a lot toward having lefties in our lineup,” UNC head coach Donna Papa said. “In that way she was different, because she was a lefty power hitter and at that time it was heavy slapper in the college game.”
And from the start of the recruiting process, Kendra knew UNC was her ideal landing spot.
“I went to some other schools and just didn’t like them,” she said. “I just didn’t get the vibe they were places I’d be comfortable with. But the first time I came to UNC, I was in awe.”
Kendra played from the start, mostly in right field, showing off her power with 19 home runs across the first two seasons. She also pitched a fair amount, making occasional spot starts and coming in relief for a combined 101 innings.
Heading into her junior year, however, UNC was short on arms. First-year Kaylee Carlson transferred to Auburn, taking her 18 wins and 166 1/3 innings with her. That left an opening on the staff that Papa needed to fill on short notice.
“You’re like ‘OK, she has pitched, we know she’s a pitcher, we’re gonna crank her up,’” Papa said. “Kendra was that person who was physically and athletically strong enough and in our lineup consistently.”
Kendra spent the fall preparing with pitching coach Chelsey Barclay for the No. 2 role behind Sydney Matzko, which Kendra said was key to setting her up for success.
But she had no idea what the next year would have in store.
Early in the 2016 season, Matzko hurt her foot, knocking her out for the year and leaving UNC with only two pitchers on staff: Kendra and Lauren Fuller. Fuller was more of a relief pitcher with strong offspeed pitches for short outings. Kendra was the only pitcher left with the velocity to start at the ACC level.
In the Judi Garman Classic in California, Kendra got her first taste of being the only starter on a staff. She started five games in three days, pitching a total of 24 2/3 innings over the course of the weekend.
“I had to go to the doctor to get IVs,” Kendra said. “I was getting sick in between innings. My body struggled to handle that amount of energy being used.”
It took Kendra a couple of weeks to adjust to the workload. She’d start the midweek game and then two or three more every weekend.
She eventually figured it out, taking every practice off to rest her arm and pitching in almost every game down the stretch. Barclay helped keep her focused.
“She would sit down with me when I didn’t do much at practice,” Kendra said. “They were really good with resting me when I absolutely could. They just tried to help me get my mind off of it, not really think about it hurting or me being tired.”
Kendra ended up throwing 301 1/3 innings in 2016 — nearly three times what she threw in her first two seasons combined. She led the ACC with 28 wins and set UNC single-season records in innings pitched and complete games (33).
“She put us on her back into regionals,” Papa said. “We couldn’t ask anything more from her.”
Within the program, no one was surprised Kendra was capable of pulling it off.
“If you know anything about Kendra,” Barclay said, “she sort of rises to the occasion.”
Kendra has taken on a lighter load in the circle as a senior, throwing 88.1 innings with 10 wins in 18 starts with five appearances in relief. That allowed her to focus on the reason she came to UNC: her hitting.
“I definitely like it better,” Kendra said with a laugh.
Kendra is the designated hitter most games for the Tar Heels and has become the program’s top bat, hitting .403 with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs while slugging .870 — drawing comparisons from Papa to former UNC All-American Kristen Brown.
Since she’s not pitching as much, Kendra has time to mentor the team’s newest ace, first-year Brittany Pickett, who’s currently sitting with a 20-5 record and 2.44 ERA.
“I’m trying to be the best role model for her,” Kendra said. “Because for the next four years, this is going to be her team on the mound.”
While the Tar Heels (36-15, 14-6 ACC) will travel to No. 2 Florida State (44-3-1, 21-0 ACC) in this weekend’s regular-season finale, Kendra is heading to Tallahassee next year for her master’s degree in sport administration. The Seminoles even hired her as a volunteer assistant coach before this season even started.
“I told her at our banquet the other night that she’s a Tar Heel forever,” Papa said. “And she’s only on loan to them.”
Papa and Kendra said it might be strange at first when they spot each other from opposite dugouts, but Kendra is looking forward to seeing everyone again next season — even if her loyalties are divided.
“If I have to give a scouting report on my own teammate,” she said, “it’s going to be like I’m betraying my school.”
But Papa knows her senior leader’s work ethic will help her thrive on the other side.
“That kid deserves everything she’s getting right now, because she’s that kid that works out when nobody’s watching. That’s the kind of kid she is.”