By RICK PETERSON
Belle Kennedy began her college soccer career for Washburn University with high potential and high hopes, but the former Washburn Rural star knew she couldn't take anything for granted.
Through the opening six games of the 2022 season things couldn't have worked out much better for either Kennedy or WU, with Kennedy starting all six games and tying for the team lead with four goals while Davy Phillips' Ichabods have posted a 5-0-1 record entering Friday's 6 p.m. road contest at Fort Hays State.
"I thought there was a chance that I could play (early),'' said Kennedy, the two-time Class 6A midfielder of the year for Rural. "But I think the chances of me playing were dependent on how hard I would play or how much I would push through compared to other people.
"It's always a case of he's (Phillips) going to play his best players to start off and you want to be out there, so in order to be out there you have to be the best. You can't lay off of anything.''
Through preseason camp Kennedy had an inkling she might be in position to earn a starting spot but didn't know for sure until she got the word just before Washburn's Aug. 25 season-opener against Oklahoma Baptist.
"I had a major hope and through practices I think I could kind of figure out how (Phillips) was putting teams together and all of that, but still, on the day of the game, I had no clue whether I was going to start or not,'' Kennedy said. "Eventually, when I found out I was happy and worked as hard as I could.''
The fact that her first college start came at Yager Stadium with a lot of friends and family members watching was an added bonus.
"It was amazing, the most amazing part of my start,'' Kennedy said.
Kennedy notched the first two goals of her college career in her second game, a 7-3 win at William Jewell, and scored both Washburn goals in Sunday's 2-1 MIAA win over Nebraska-Kearney. She is currently tied with senior teammate Jaedyn Johnson for the team lead with her four goals.
"Am I surprised? No, but I'm also not surprised because my teammates have helped me get to this point,'' Kennedy said. "We wouldn't be winning if it weren't for our defenders. Yes you have to score goals in order to win but you also have to block (the opponent) in order to keep winning. Shutouts are very important and I'm very grateful that Raegan Wells (goalkeeper) and Carlee Thompson and Emmy (Michaelis) and those defenders are able to help back us up.
"As an attacking player I'm really grateful to have been given those chances and been able to execute them well.''
Growing up, Kennedy's goal was to play at the Division I level, but she's definitely happy with how things have turned out.
"There were a lot of offers I had, but as far as Division I schools I was reaching out to, they didn't like the idea of how tall I was and just my stature,'' the 5-foot-3 Kennedy said. "I feel like due to COVID I was put at a (disadvantage), just not being able to get out there as often as I would have.
"We only had showcases we were able to go to for club in our senior yea, but I'm happy I chose Washburn. It's a great fit for me.''
Phillips said he's not surprised that Kennedy has been able to step into a pominent role for the Ichabods so early in her college career.
"She's obviously a super talented player and her energy she provides in a game is great,'' Phillips said. "You can't guarantee (a spot), but you do this long enough you have a pretty good idea of who's going to come in and provide some minutes right away.
"What's surprising is how quickly she's been able to play up to her potential in college. I always knew her ceiling and what she's capable of, but it's been a real surprise how quickly she's hit the ground running. I think she's surrounded by some terrific teammates that have helped her a lot, but she's been awesome from the very beginning.''