Kowalik has had historic career at Kentucky

Published 4:53 pm Monday, May 8, 2023

By LARRY VAUGHT

Contributing columnist

The season has not gone nearly as well from a winning perspective as what All-American catcher Kayla Kowalik envisioned when she decided to play a fifth season for coach Rachel Lawson. However, from an overall perspective Kowalik has no complaints going into this week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament where UK will play Florida on Wednesday night.

“Honestly I think it is better (than expected). Just the expectation of not getting the Covid year and now I get to get it back and that was not originally part of the plan. All of it is sweet. I feel like there is no bittersweet aspect to it,” said Kowalik.

“I am loving every moment I get to spend with my team, every minute I get with coaches. I think it is even better than I expected it would be.”

Her career has been better than anyone could have expected, including Kowalik when she came to UK after an illustrious high school sports career in Texas. She is UK’s all-time hits leader with 348 and all-time leader in runs scored with 258. She led the nation in batting average in 2021 when she hit a school-record .495, had a school-record 26-game hitting streak and scored a school-record 79 runs.

It was poetic justice that she scored the winning run in a come-from-behind 7-6 win over Florida Saturday on UK’s Senior Day in front of a sold out John Cropp Stadium.

Kowalik is an intense competitor but has “mellowed” to some extent. She’s more patient with pitchers and teammates.

“When you play 55 games in a season and you are young, it’s like, ‘We can’t lose a game.’ Now I know it is all about learning from the losses,” Kowalik said. “You are not going to win every game unfortunately, so you just take what you can from a loss and roll into the next game. You can’t have a loss weigh on you when you have to go play another game the next day no matter how tough the loss is and we’ve had some tough losses this year.”

Kowalik admits it feels “weird” at times when she’s bantering with younger teammates who maybe just turned 18 years old. However, she enjoys being able to offer insights to UK’s younger players.

“Experience is definitely a perk of getting older and probably the biggest perk when it comes to helping younger players,” Kowalik, a Team USA veteran, said.

Kowalik was the eighth pick in the recent Women’s Professional Fastpitch draft that only continued to add to her legacy. She has been so good that it was considered a “down” year in 2022 when she hit “only” .420.

“That is the unfortunate thing. Sometimes I don’t feel I am doing so well compared to last season or the season prior. It’s one of those things I learned from last season, just take it game by game and as long as I am doing my job statistically I am not going to focus on that,” Kowalik, who is hitting .449 this season, said.  “If I am doing my job, we are going to roll with that.”

Kowalik admits she has not stopped to fully appreciate what she’s done at Kentucky. Her final home game was Sunday and it was only fitting that John Cropp Stadium was sold out to see her final game.

“When I am officially done and have no at-bats left in this (UK) jersey, then I will kind of be like I had a pretty good run,” Kowalik smiled and said.

After Kentucky beat Florida 1-0 in her final home game Sunday, she did break down and cry as she hugged Lawson just like she did after the Senior Day victory.

While she might be running out of at-bats in the UK uniform, she likely has plenty of games left wearing a Kentucky uniform because she plans to join Lawson’s staff as a graduate assistant.

“After that I guess we are going to flip a coin and figure out what Kayla is going to do,” Kowalik said. “If anybody has any suggestions, let me know. Hopefully there will be life with Lawson again (next year) and she likes me enough to have me back.”