The stadium lights at Sherwood High School had just been shut off and only a handful of people remained under the Sandy Spring field’s bleachers on a dark and chilly spring night last week.
“This happens a lot,” sophomore Emily Kenul joked in the aftermath of the Sherwood girls lacrosse team’s victory against James H. Blake. “We’re kind of used to seeing in the dark.”
Kenul, who was being interviewed, along with her father Phil Kenul, and a few members of the Warriors’ coaching staff were the last ones to leave Caruso Memorial Field.
The star midfielder and 2011 All-Gazette first team selection is no stranger to being one of the final players on the field. For as long as she can remember, lacrosse has been an integral part of her life.
She began playing the sport for the St. Peter’s Athletic Association in second grade after the Kenuls moved to the area from Florida.
“My mom played in college for Hofstra and my dad played in high school so they kind of pushed it on me,” Emily said with a laugh and smile. “Well, they didn’t push it on me, but they were like, ‘Lacrosse is a great sport.’ They shared it with me and I am so glad they did.”
Early in her playing tenure, Kenul’s late-mother, Donna DiFalco-Kenul, was her inspiration and first coach. Donna passed away in October 2008 following a battle with multiple myeloma.
“She taught me everything and deserves all the credit for the player I am,” said Emily, who also shared her mother’s passion for pottery art at Ross Boddy Community Center in Sandy Spring. “We did everything together and she’s my inspiration to play now.”
In middle school, Emily began playing for the Maryland and District of Columbia 2014 Black team, one of the best club programs in the region. Last year, the team posted a 44-0-1 record and won four tournaments, including the highly competitive Mid-Atlantic Tournament Championship.
“I see a little bit of me in Emily,” said Blake junior midfielder Caroline Wannen, who has verbally committed to the University of Maryland and played with Kenul for St. Peter’s. “She’s really fast and has really good stick skills.”
Kenul’s lacrosse prowess provided several options two years ago when it came time to select a high school. In addition to Sherwood, her home school, Kenul considered national and local private school powers McDonogh (Owings Mills), where her club coach Chris Robinson works, and neighboring Our Lady of Good Counsel.
“I thought that maybe I would stand out a little bit more at Sherwood,” Kenul said. “I mean, Good Counsel and McDonogh have a ton of amazing players and both would’ve been great opportunities for my lacrosse career, but if I went there, it would just be for lacrosse.
“All my friends were staying at Sherwood and now, I absolutely love it and I am so glad I chose to stay. We are really turning Sherwood into a strong lacrosse place and I want to be here for that.”
The Warriors have played in the 4A/3A West Region title game the past two years, and this spring they were 8-1 through Sunday, their only loss coming against Southern High of Anne Arundel County.
Kenul leads her team in nearly every major statistical category with 68 points (46 goals, 22 assists), 34 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers. She has also won 44 of 69 draw controls (63.7 percent) and is shooting 82.1 percent.
“She’s willing to learn and very coachable,” Sherwood coach Kelly Hughes said. “She is so confident with the ball. … And kind of a quiet kid and the girls really like her.”
While Kenul’s physical skills are quite apparent, it is the off-the-field intangibles that make her one of the best players in the county.
“She’s awesome,” junior teammate and close friend Maddie Doan said. “She’s so field smart and so funny. … That’s the biggest thing with our team, we love being together outside of lacrosse. Being together definitely helps our chemistry on the field.”
Added Kenul: “We spend infinite amounts of time together. Maddie messes with me and I mess with her. Whenever I trip or anything I do dumb, we laugh at each other.”