Athlete of the Issue: Kathryn Stender

Simon Ricci The Reed Gym is hot and dark, since it’s midsummer and there’s no one around to turn on the lights. Kathryn Stender stands under the emergency lamp shooting threes. The balls shoot out of the gun underneath the basket. Pop. Swish. Pop. Swish. She’s here almost every day, running solitary, repetitive workouts with nobody watching. Today, Coach Bower comes in towards the end. “Do you want the lights on?” Kathryn says she doesn’t mind; she’ll shoot no matter what. It’s not as though Kathryn loves working solo; the reason she’s a three-sport athlete is because she loves playing with a team. From first grade on, she’s been playing basketball with a team. Whether she’s a fourth grader coached by Ms. Sampey and her mom or an integral part of this year’s regional championship team, there’s nothing more fun than hanging out with the other girls. The unique part of being on Latin’s varsity basketball team is that it requires more than just weekends. Every year, the team plays a Lisle holiday tournament over winter break, meaning that they’re home watching game tape and friends’ snap stories from the Caribbean. But being together, early in the morning at Whole Body Fitness or playing tough nonconference games makes the team become “a family.” This is practically inevitable, since every practice and game means a long carpool—there are no buses since the school is closed—but the results are immediately visible. The team that has been together for two years “gelled,” and that’s why they’re playing so well, screaming on the bench every time someone takes a charge, and vacillating between intensity and beaming smiles. In the gaps between the Latin season in winter and her club’s season in summer, there’s no break. Kathryn “likes to be diverse in sports because the different sports influence each other. Softball gives hand-eye and mental focus, both of which help for basketball.” It’s not like she does softball just for basketball, though. She does it for the accomplishment of catching a pop fly in her preferred position of left field. She does it for the upset run to the Regional title last year. She does it because Lizzie Marks, one of the “scary seniors” of the Class of 2014, gave her a transformative high five after her first ever home run. Naturally, the high five was far more exciting than the actual home run. All spring, though, she enjoys the fresh air and yet another team who loves her care and friendship. During the other break, Kathryn turns into a talented and decorated runner in her own right. Like her brother, cross country All-American at Dickinson College, she started slowly, running comfortably on JV. It was before sophomore year, though, that she decided she “wanted to work hard at it, get a lot better, and contribute to the team.” To put it simply, she “ran a lot more.” It was a typical Kathryn Stender show of pure dedication. Throughout the season, she dropped time repeatedly and easily earned her place on the varsity team, but it was the state meet that shocked everyone. In a transcendent eighteen minutes and thirty-nine seconds, Kathryn became the seventh-fastest runner in Latin history and dropped 3:30 from the year before. For her incredible work ethic and leadership, Kathryn was elected captain for the 2016 season by her teammates. The Field Gym is cold and light in the middle of winter, but Kathryn Stender is still shooting threes. She’s gotten so good that she’s qualified for Thursday’s State 3-Point Competition. She’ll have forty-five seconds to shoot fifteen threes from both wings and the top of the key. Historically, the best shooters make twelve or thirteen of them, and the finalists make at least ten. Kathryn should be right in the mix; at the Sectional competition, she made ten. Her success already, though, is just another indicator of her knack for playing her best and bringing out the best in others. Sports are “not just about winning. [They’re] about learning to do your best all the time and really being dedicated to other people and help them improve as well as yourself.” When she’s dropping threes in Normal on Thursday, singling up the middle in May, or finishing the Boston Marathon in ten years, she’ll bring that mindset and her contagious passion with her.]]>