RICHMOND, Va. – Kendall Farino couldn’t help herself. At team picture day last fall, she removed the retainer that held her temporary tooth and mugged for her headshot. For the rest of the year, grinning alongside her official team bio was Farino, one tooth short, looking like America’s most cordial hockey enforcer.
“When I’m 80, I’ll think it’s hilarious. I think it’s hilarious now. I’ll have three other [headshots] with a mouth full of teeth, and I thought it would be fun,” says Farino, a senior midfielder on the VCU Field Hockey team. “But mom and dad were not happy.”
It was a small, rare act of rebellion for a player whose reputation is closer a team mom than class clown.
“I’m very type ‘A’, straightforward, follow the rules, do everything I’m told, so it was very off the wall for me,” she says.
In reality, Farino, a genial Virginia Beach native, has been something of a model citizen during her four-year career. Studious, driven and organized, she serves as a team co-captain.
“I think Kendall’s kind of stood out, even before we got her here on campus,” says VCU Head Coach Laura Baker. “She stood out in the way she conducted herself as a 16-, 17-year-old. She was different than most girls we have on campus. She’s always been a very mature young lady, and that’s continued during her four years here.”
An exercise science major, Farino last received a ‘B’ in a class as a senior in high school. Correction: it was a B-plus.
“High school calculus,” she says. “I was pretty mad.”
Farino, who now smiles through a lovely full set of 32 teeth, recently earned another type of distinction when she was accepted into VCU’s exclusive physical therapy school. The 3 ½-year doctorate tract, which includes an extensive application process that took Farino seven hours to complete, admits only a fraction of students from its pool of candidates.
Her 4.0 grade-point-average was no guarantee of admission, but Farino’s four years as a student-athlete, as well as her time volunteering in physical therapy clinics, certainly aided her cause.
Although Farino says she’s undecided on what type of physical therapy she’ll pursue, pediatrics has caught her attention.
“I love kids,” she says. “They’re very resilient, which I think helps their recovery time, and that would be really rewarding for me as a PT. Really, I just saw myself fitting in that environment.”
The VCU Field Hockey team’s 3.5 GPA ranked fifth nationally in 2014-15, and the Rams earned their second consecutive National Team Academic Award from the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA). Even among a group this strong scholastically, Farino manages to stand out.
“[My teammates] do call me the team nerd,” giggles Farino, who has also recorded three goals and eight career assists for the Rams.
When the team is traveling, Farino tucks her 5-foot frame into a seat and studies. When the Rams are holed up in a hotel on the road, Farino makes her way down to the lobby to study. In fact, one of Baker’s biggest concerns with Farino is if she’ll stop studying long enough to get a good night’s rest.
“She’s studying all the time, pretty much. Any free time we get, she’s studying. I don’t have to worry about it with her. She’s great. Most of our kids are self-motivated, but Kendall is above and beyond most of the team anyway,” Baker says.
Farino says she draws up a study plan at the start of each week and rarely takes a night off from her academics. She did deviate from the plan on Sept. 9, when she learned she’d been accepted to VCU’s physical therapy program. She spent the evening at a local dessert shop with friends instead.
Despite the heavy workload, Farino says this is not a case of exacting parents or onerous self-policing. She genuinely enjoys absorbing most of the material, and happily pours herself into subjects like anatomy, physiology and nutrition.
“I love everything I’m learning,” Farino says.
Farino’s meticulous approach bleeds over onto the field hockey turf, where she helps keep the Rams centered.
“As you can tell from her academics, she’s a very organized as a leader,” says Baker.
Nearly halfway through her final field hockey season, Farino, who has assisted on two goals this season, is well prepared for the next stage of her life. Her academic record is unblemished, and she’s carefully plotted her career path.
“I’m definitely sentimental about it,” she says of her final collegiate season. “All good things come to an end, and it’s coming to an end. But I think of it as one chapter ending and another one beginning. Since last Wednesday that next chapter is PT school, which is a great next chapter.”