Kentucky's Kayla Kowalik Leading The Way For The Wildcats
There’s starting off the season well, and then there’s what Kayla Kowalik is doing. Through the first 14 games of the 2021 season, the junior catcher for the Kentucky Wildcats is batting .542 with 26 hits, 25 runs scored, 21 runs batted in and five home runs in only 48 at-bats.
How can you possibly explain a start like that? For Kowalik, it all comes down to taking advantage of the opportunity that is given to you.
“I think the majority of what’s helping me is making the most out of my at-bats,” said Kowalik in a Zoom interview. “We didn’t get a season last year so I’m taking a different approach—being more appreciative for every time I get to play and every time I get to step on the field. It’s a mindset thing rather than things that I’ve changed physically because I’m a lot more appreciative of what we get to do this season.”
One of the things that Kowalik seems to do a lot is hit triples. In her freshman season in 2019, she hit five triples, and then in the shortened season in 2020, she hit eight triples. So far this season, she already has three triples. As of right now, she is already tied for fourth place in career triples among all active NCAA players. Granted, she is currently 13 behind the leader, but with the rest of this season along with another one afterward, there’s still plenty of time for Kowalik to reach that mark.
Incredibly, for a good portion of her childhood, speed wasn’t really a focus for her. In her own words, she was a “prototypical catcher.” However, once she started growing up, things changed a bit.
“As I got older and I grew into myself and my body, I became a slapper and speed is something that I prioritized and I found that I was actually good at it,” said Kowalik.
Overall, she’s good at a lot of things with a career average well above .300, a career slugging percentage over .500 and a career on-base percentage over .450. She fits right in with the rest of the Wildcat lineup that is no slouch either. This season alone, the team as a whole is batting a whopping .426 with over 150 hits and runs scored already, as well as 30 home runs and 32 doubles.
One of the team's top performers this season is freshman Erin Coffel, who, according to Kowalik, immediately fit right in.
“She has just kind of naturally stepped into her position of shortstop. I don’t feel like there was ever this awkward transition period of figuring college out, which a lot of people do go through,” said Kowalik. “She’s definitely brought a very good bat, she has a very good glove on the field and I am absolutely immensely proud of her for what she’s done so far.”
What she’s done so far is lead the team in home runs with eight, and rank second in doubles and runs scored.
Add in the rest of the starting lineup and you won’t find a player hitting under .330 in Kentucky's lineup. The pitching has also been stellar with fifth-year ace Autumn Humes leading the way with a 1.45 ERA and an overall staff ERA of 1.71.
One question that remains is will all of this be enough to get over the super regional hump? Under head coach Rachel Lawson, the Wildcats have made the NCAA Tournament 11 years in a row, including seven super regional appearances in that span. However, Kentucky has only been to the Women’s College World Series once back in 2014.
Considering what it will take to get back there, Kowalik has a pretty good idea.
“It’s just getting in the absolute mindset of ‘We’re not losing’ rather than the mindset of ‘Oh, we made it to super regionals. That’s really cool.’ We don’t want super regionals to be the top of the ladder. We want it to be the middle of the ladder and to keep on going.”