By Ray Hamill — Corsairs freshman Kendall Stewart wasn’t sure she would get to play any sports in college, and now she’s going to play two.
The former Fortuna Husky recently committed to play both basketball and volleyball at College of the Redwoods, and is expected to play a key role on both teams this year.
“She’s a great academic student,” CR volleyball head coach Petra Lorenzi said. “And she had a lot of options, so we’re excited to get her for volleyball. She’s an athletic kid with a great attitude.”
Stewart received academic offers from several big colleges, although she didn’t think she would get to play sports at any of them.
And because of that — coupled with with the uncertainty surrounding COVID — she has opted to stay local for now and attend CR while competing on as many fronts as she can.
And that’s good news for the Corsairs.
“I think Kendall is a good all-around player and she brings intensity defensively,” said CR basketball head coach Jain Tuey, who has known her for several years. “And I think she can become a good shooter for us. She has a high basketball IQ and I’m really excited to have her.”
The CR volleyball team opens the season with a pair of home games on Saturday of next weekend, playing Umpqua at noon and Mendocino at 4 p.m.
And Stewart believes the roster — which also includes McKinleyville’s Ashley Alves, Arcata’s Cheyenne Wilson and Fortuna’s Zoe Zerlang — is already showing signs of gelling.
“My first impression of the volleyball team is how we’re mentally connecting with each other,” she said. “We kind of feel like a family already.”
She admits, however, that the college level has been a difficult adjustment.
“It’s actually very challenging,” she said. “It’s really hard, but I’m enjoying it at the same time. It pushes us to be a better team.”
Stewart will be reunited with several of her Fortuna teammates and H-DNL rivals at CR, with a number of H-DNL standouts committing to play either volleyball or basketball for the local JC, most notably her long-time basketball teammate Gracie Betts.
As juniors at Fortuna High, Stewart and Betts were both pivotal in helping the Huskies win a first girls basketball league title in 38 years, and it’s an achievement neither will ever forget.
“I’ll definitely remember my junior year when we won the Big 5 championship,” Stewart said. “It was such a huge accomplishment for Fortuna High.”
The incoming college freshman is also excited about the prospect of continuing to play alongside Betts, who has been her teammate since their time at Toddy Thomas Middle School.
“I have a lot of chemistry with her,” Stewart said. “I know exactly what she’s thinking (on the court.”
Betts is also expected to have an immediate impact with the Corsairs.
“I think Gracie is going to have a big role for us,” Tuey said of the point guard. “And I think she’s ready for that.”
Stewart has been a big admirer of her friend’s play for a number of years.
“She’s a really strong defender,” Stewart said. “She goes all out. She’s go-go-go on defense and I love it. It really puts pressure on other teams.”
Several other local standouts, including Hoopa’s Nas-Che-Wen Hunsucker, Fortuna’s Lilly Shelton and former Hoopa and St. Bernard’s player Verissa Moon, have also committed to play basketball for the Corsairs this year.
And Stewart expects the team to be among the best in the Golden Valley Conference, as the Corsairs look to show that their conference championship in 2019/20 was no fluke.
“We have very high expectations,” she said.