By David Willis
---- — When Andover volleyball captain Kenny Doherty talks, teammates listen. Following four years as a three-sport throwback, there is next to nothing the 6-foot-3 leaper has not experienced.
In the fall, Doherty carved out a role as special teams ace and situational pass rusher in football, helping the squad to the Merrimack Valley Conference title in 2012.
In the winter, he was a key to morale as a backup for the basketball team that advanced to the Division 1 North title game this season.
But Doherty is never more dominant than he is on the volleyball court, where he is an all-conference middle hitter for the Golden Warriors, which entered the week with an impressive 10-6 record.
“I love volleyball,” Doherty said. “I admit, it is nice to have a sport I can really get out on the court with and score a few points. But even though being a three-sport athlete can be tough, I have had an amazing time playing football and basketball. Once every season approaches, I am excited to play.”
Doherty’s dedication to three sports is a rare accomplishment as athletes specialize more and more on one sport, according to his football and volleyball coach, E.J. Perry.
“You have to respect the passion of a three-sport athlete,” Perry said. “He is an excellent volleyball player, an enthusiastic football player who made some big plays for us and my son (E.J. Perry IV) always talks about how much he brought the basketball team together and made sure they were focused.”
While volleyball has become Doherty’s top sport, he did not start playing until a little more than two years ago.
“I had played baseball for the freshman team, but didn’t have a great season,” Doherty said. “So, as a sophomore, I decided to give volleyball a try because people had mentioned it could help my vertical leap for basketball. I had never tried it before I tried out for the team as a sophomore.”
But it did not take Doherty long to show he had a knack for the game, and catch the attention of the Golden Warriors’ coaching staff.
“When I tried out, the coach at the time (Dave Kuykendall) was excited to have a tall kid,” he said. “He put me into our first (exhibition match) against Lawrence. They had this big kid and I got a block against him. Coach K pulled me aside and said, ‘That is an all-conference player and you just blocked him.’ That’s when I realized this could be my sport.”
Doherty finished that season as the team leader in solo and total blocks, was third in kills and fifth in aces. He continued to grow and learn the sport last season, earning All-Merrimack Valley Conference honors.
“He has been a rock for this team,” assistant coach Ally Navarro said. “He has a very enthusiastic energy about him. Sometimes he can become frustrated, but I have worked with him on redirecting that energy in a positive way. He is passionate and there isn’t anyone like him in the league.”
Doherty admits his life could be easier if he took a season off. But he never considered the simpler way.
“It can be hard, because I don’t have an offseason and I have to be sure to get all of my homework done as soon as I get home,” he said. “Sure, I would love some time to relax, but I love all three sports.”
In football, Doherty was a member of all of the Golden Warriors’ special teams, while also catching seven passes, including a touchdown, as tight end against Peabody and making 11 tackles.
“That touchdown catch was amazing,” Perry said. “And he filled in a lot of key roles because of injuries. He did a lot for us.”
In basketball, Doherty knew his role would be as a bench player.
“Coach (David) Fazio came to me and told me, ‘I can’t promise you much playing time. Are you OK with that?’” Doherty said. “I told him that I was. I had been going to Andover sporting events since third grade, so I wanted to be a part of it. I would have loved to be out there, but I did my best to help out in practice and keep the players’ spirits high.”
His spirit and contributions did earn him the role as the favorite player of the Andover fan section “The Jungle,” which went crazy anytime he entered a game.
“That was really amazing,” he said with a laugh. “The Jungle did a great job, and to be the guy that got cheered at the end of games was really awesome. There was nothing like that.”
Doherty, who will attend Auburn University in the fall, now has high hopes for how his high school sports career will end as volleyball season begins to wind down.
“It will be a shame if we don’t at least make the state title game,” Doherty said. “I really feel like we have a group that can accomplish great things.”