Kayla Beaver Propels Central Arkansas To New Heights
Nine-year-old Kayla Beaver was not having a good day. The previous year she had broken her leg, which meant she had taken one year off from softball. One year later, she was all healed up and ready to play, but her team was without a pitcher. That led to some unfortunate news for her at the time from her mom, who was one of the coaches for her team.
“She was like, ‘You’re going to have to become a pitcher,’” said Beaver. “I had a fit, did not want to go, cried the whole way to the pitching lesson. The guy that I went to, he told me that if I would just give him 30 minutes of my attention, he would take me to get ice cream afterward. And, of course, being a little nine-year-old, I was all in.”
Ten-plus years later and not only is Beaver one of the top contributors to her Central Arkansas team's success, but she is also one of the top pitchers in the nation. She leads the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 1.26 ERA and is currently ranked 15th overall in Division I. The redshirt junior is also ranked third in her conference in strikeouts with 164, second in wins with 19 and is part of a Central Arkansas pitching staff that is third in Division I in team ERA (1.52).
For someone who was once adamantly opposed to becoming a pitcher, it seems like it was the right fit after all.
“I’m glad that it happened the way it did,” said Beaver.
It’s safe to say, so are her teammates and coaches. Along with redshirt senior hurler Jordan Johnson, who is having a career season of her own, the No. 23 Bears are 19-2 in conference play this season and 36-9 overall. They are only three wins away from surpassing the program record for victories in a single season, which was set back in 2013. Perhaps the most notable moment of the year for the program so far, however, was its season sweep of No. 12 Arkansas. Those two wins, according to Beaver, gave the team more confidence than ever.
“We had a lot of confidence going into the first game that we played them,” said Beaver. “And then after we beat them that time, coming into the one that we played at home, we had more confidence than ever, and we had no fear and no doubts in that game knowing that we could get it done.”
The two games against Arkansas were part of a more competitive schedule than normal for the Bears in 2023. So far this season, the team from Conway has also played against No. 7 Oklahoma State, No. 17 LSU and No. 19 Utah, with a victory over the Utes. With the strength of their schedule and overall success this season, the Bears are currently ranked in every major national poll with the postseason quickly approaching.
A major reason for the team’s winning ways this year, Beaver believes, comes back to the environment that head coach Jenny Parsons fosters. While there are times for seriousness, the mood is often light and fun, according to Beaver, with a lot of conversation. This rapport is also evident in the relationship between Beaver and her catcher, junior Josie Willingham.
Beaver has known Willingham since they began playing ball when they were both four years old. They lived only five minutes apart growing up and have continued playing softball together ever since. When you have known someone for that long, Beaver said sometimes words aren’t even necessary.
“We’re on the same page all the time, I feel like,” said Beaver. “We work with each other in the bullpen all the time and we’re actually roommates, so there’s a lot of connection there.”
The team as a whole was on the same page after finishing third in the conference tournament last season, missing out on the NCAA Tournament. The end of their season in 2022, Beaver believes, turned into fuel for this season and gave them a renewed purpose. Additionally, even with all their victories this season, there have been plenty of naysayers as well, according to Beaver. Rather than damaging the team’s confidence, the doubters have only helped it to grow.
“We have had a lot of haters up until this point, and we’ve used them as motivators,” said Beaver. “It sounds really cliché, but it’s the truth. And so, I would just say to never doubt yourself and know that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to because no goal and dream are too big.”