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UW SOFTBALL | NCAA

What makes Wisconsin softball standout Kayla Konwent 'the best player that’s ever played here'

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Watching Kayla Konwent hit during practice is an exercise in hearing, eyesight and physics for spectators.

Tuesday’s session for the University of Wisconsin softball team included an early home run derby segment, and Konwent launched several pitches into orbit. One blast landed just to right of the UW scoreboard in deep center field at Goodman Field.

The sound off the bat when Konwent makes contact is “not like anyone else I’ve ever heard,” graduate infielder Lauren Foster said with a laugh before practice.

“It’s awesome,” said Foster, who earlier in the conversation also called Konwent a “legend” in Wisconsin softball history. “Oh my gosh, it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard.”

UW announced earlier this year Konwent, one of the program’s storied sluggers, would return this season — and she has delivered once again. Her poised and confident approach at the plate exemplifies why coach Yvette Healy believes the Salem native is “the best player that’s ever played here.”

Konwent heads into the NCAA Tournament as the school’s career leader in batting average (.406), home runs (32), on-base percentage (.542) and slugging percentage (.753). The Gainesville regional will allow her an opportunity to move up the UW’s career record book in other categories; she is tied for third in career walks (98), fifth in doubles (37) and tied for sixth in total bases (299).

Big Ten Network softball analyst Elise Menaker called Konwent “one of the most exciting players to watch in the Big Ten.” She leads the conference in on-base percentage (.537) while sitting second in walks and third in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). She leads the team in batting average (.377), OPS (1.214), home runs (10), RBIs (31) and walks (37).

The statistics are only part of the reason why Healy made the proclamation about Konwent being the all-time best Badgers player.

“That’s a tough thing to say because there’s been some great ones, with Chloe Miller, with Michelle Mueller, with Mary Massei,” Healy said. “She can just change the course of the game with a swing, but beyond how good she is offensively, she’s just such a great leader.

“She makes people around her better, and so when you have a giant game from Fiona (Girardot) next to her, when you see Ally Miklesh having a year she is, she’s just such a maximizer. She’s great in her own right, but she’s really brought other people along, too.”

Konwent’s humility showed in her reaction to Healy’s high praise, deflecting to and complimenting those around her.

“I don’t really want to believe it,” Konwent said. “Because whether it’s smart, whether it’s their heart, whether it’s talent-wise, we have so many incredible women on this team, and I think it does a disservice to think that there’s one best person.

“Without each and every one of those people on the team, I wouldn’t be the person that I am. And so while it’s totally flattering, there’s just no way I can do it without the rest of the people.”

Those around Konwent pointed to various factors that distinguish her from others at the plate. Girardot, a junior infielder who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, sees a “presence” and calmness in her teammate.

Foster pointed to self-confidence as one of Konwent’s traits, and Healy praised the senior’s versatility at the plate.

“I think she’s a bad-ball hitter, so it doesn’t have to be a strike for her to do damage, and she understands herself so she knows what she can crush,” Healy said. “She knows how to get her singles if she’s gotten behind in the count, and she can see a change of speed. So she does a lot well that makes her dangerous.”

Konwent’s routine at the plate includes taking a deep breath before entering the box. She says to herself that, “I’m better than the pitcher,” and she needs to “win one pitch.”

The 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year then touches the outside corner of the plate. She attempts “to keep it as simple as possible,” which may involve concentrating on how the ball comes out of the pitcher’s hand.

Both Konwent, who holds several of the school’s single-season statistical records from that stellar 2019 campaign, and Foster referenced the former’s faith when hitting.

“And I think also what helps ground me is every time when I step in the box, I say, ‘In Christ, I am enough,’” Konwent said. “And it just helps free me up to where, when I get in there, I’m like, ‘OK, I could get out or it could get a base hit or I could strike out or I could walk, whatever.’

“But I know that the Lord’s gonna love me either way, and that’s just very freeing because I feel like our society and our culture says that you have to perform in order to be loved or in order to be celebrated, and that’s not what God says. And so it’s just very freeing for me to be able to go up there and just go have fun.”

One additional tradition of hers takes place when she rounds second base after a home run. She extends a thumbs up to her mother, who is a regular in the stands. The latest came during the regular-season finale against Michigan, when she eclipsed the school’s all-time mark.

On Mother’s Day no less.

“You could just see it in her eyes how happy she was because she knew the record,” Konwent said. “I really didn’t know that I was going to beat the record.

“I don’t know how many home runs I have or anything like that, but you could tell in her eyes something was different, and she was just overjoyed.”

Correction: The story has been updated to indicate that Konwent has not exhausted her eligibility. She has one year of eligibility left if she chooses to use it.

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