The first word Kendall Mulvaney used to describe winning Most Valuable Player of the Los Tacos Holiday Tournament was "unexpected."
Mulvaney, a sophomore, said she wanted to share the award with her teammates on defense for the Corona del Mar High girls' soccer team. She knows she has plenty of support back there with senior sweeper Sydney Raguse, sophomore stopper Molly Keasey, senior left back Amanda Stephenson and junior right back Alana Hunter.
"I really worked my hardest in that tournament and I tried my best," Mulvaney said. "I'm glad it paid off, but I honestly think it should be [team] defense MVP. We had some crazy stops that saved our games and got us all the shutouts. It was exciting."
Still, as goalkeeper, Mulvaney is the last line of defense. And she has been downright stingy to opposing teams at the start of the year.
She earned that MVP award after helping the Sea Kings win a tournament for the first time in Coach Bryan Middleton's 10-year tenure. Four shutouts at the tournament gave her seven in a row, as CdM (12-1-1) is also off to its best start under Middleton.
"To get four shutouts in a row in a tournament, that's just huge," Middleton said. "That doesn't happen all the time. She had some very big saves in the tournament. There were a couple long throw-ins where she did well, came out and won the ball out of the air."
Mulvaney had reason to feel confident. She's been playing goalie for about six years now, and she plays club soccer for West Coast FC. But this is the girl who wasn't even slated to be the Sea Kings' starting goalie to open the year.
It was supposed to be Stanford-bound senior Sarah Cox, who was coming back from an ACL injury that kept her sidelined for her entire junior year. CdM was fine at goalkeeper last year, as Newport-Mesa Player of the Year Lindsey Luke, now at Wake Forest, came back to high school soccer and had a big senior season.
But Cox got injured again, hurting her sternum. Mulvaney, who had limited playing time on varsity as a freshman, was cast into a starting role.
Talk to Mulvaney, and she's humble. She said it's an honor to play on a talented team like CdM, which has six Division I commits. The Sea Kings are ranked No. 10 nationally in the Powerade Fab 50, and No. 8 by the National Soccer Coaches Assn. of America. Their only loss this season has been to Westview of San Diego, a top-three team in the nation in both polls.
"I was kind of scared at first," Mulvaney said of stepping into the starting role. "It's big shoes to fill. Lindsey and Sarah are both committed to huge schools, and they're very, very, very good. I feel like it was scary but it was worth it. This team is really good, and not a lot of players get the experience to play with this level of players. I feel like I'm already getting better because I'm playing with them, and they're shooting on me. It was scary at first, but after like two games I started getting into it and I felt like it was my team. [My teammates] are all so nice and accepting."
Mulvaney said she's 5 feet 10 "if I stand up straight." She has grown in more ways than one.
In 950 minutes of action, she's allowed just six goals. Middleton said he's also been impressed by her confidence and verbal communication skills. As a goalkeeper, they are traits she needs to have.
"She's the only one who can 100% see the whole field and can help direct the defense, the midfield or even the forwards," Middleton said. "That was one thing I asked her to work on. Progressively, in this preseason, I've seen that side of her get better too."
The goalie situation will be interesting to follow, as Mulvaney hurt her finger late in the first half of Thursday's 2-1 Pacific Coast League-opening win over Irvine. Cox, who returned to practice this week, came in and played in the second half.
Middleton said Mulvaney still could open and close her hand after getting hurt. If both she and Cox are healthy, he does not see it as a problem.
"I don't want to say it's a difficult coaching decision," Middleton said. "It's a good thing, because I now have two goalkeepers, and two goalkeepers that can play at a high level."
Mulvaney is the second oldest of four sisters. The oldest, Kylie, is a junior at CdM and plays lacrosse. Then there are the twins, Kennedy and Katherine, who are seventh-graders.
Kennedy Mulvaney is also a serious soccer player; she plays for Newport Beach-based Slammers FC. Kendall said she and Kennedy like to compete against each other.
One thing they measure is their mile times. Kendall said her best is a 6 minutes 22 seconds, while Kennedy's best is a 6:26.
"She's very fast," Kendall Mulvaney said. "I have to step it up."
She is motivated to keep stepping up for the Sea Kings, too. She said CdM has already accomplished two season goals, beating Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay and also winning a tournament.
The last two team goals are repeating as league champions and winning CIF, the latter being something the program has never accomplished. CdM has been eliminated in the quarterfinals each of the last three years.
"We checked two things off the list, but I feel like we need to keep pushing stronger," Mulvaney said. "We don't want to peak and then go down. But I feel like with this team we are motivated. We want to win. We want to go all the way. We can't lose our fire, but I feel like we won't lose our fire, because this is such a strong team. We're so talented if we work together. [The fast start] is so exciting, and it pushes us to complete all of our goals."
The goal for Mulvaney remains the same — don't allow any goals.
Her strong play is not unexpected.
Born: July 16, 1996
Hometown: Newport Beach
Coach: Bryan Middleton
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite movie: "The Blind Side"
Favorite athletic moment: Winning the League Cup championship in penalty kicks with her then-club team, the SoCal Blues, two years ago at JSerra High.
Week in review: Mulvaney was named MVP of the Los Tacos Holiday Tournament on Dec 28. She recorded a combined 16 saves in four games, all shutouts, including the 1-0 championship game victory over Saugus at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy.