When Murray Woodward first selected Kayla Allard for the Winnipeg Lightning ‘99s, he recalls her having raw talent that needed to be directed.
Over the course of the 2013 season — Allard’s first with the team — she worked hard to improve, and did so exponentially. As a catcher, Allard progressed so much over the course of the year that she took over pitch-calling duties from Woodward late in the season as the Lightning powered through to a provincial title. The 15-year-old Transcona resident also earned league MVP honours along the way.
Woodward said Allard is keen to gain understanding, and her fastpitch smarts helped her gain his trust to call the game.
"If she needed help, she came to the dugout and she asked questions," he said. "I’d tell her what I think was correct, and if that batter was up again, we wouldn’t make the same mistake."
Allard said one of the major developments she made was to keep cool when runners were trying to steal on her, especially going to second — the longest throw for a catcher.
"Being under pressure, it doesn’t affect me," said the Collège Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau student. "Before, you’re ‘Oh my goodness, I have to throw now,’ and now it’s easy going."
Last season, the Lightning were forced to surmount leads in both the semifinal and the final games in order to take the provincial title. Allard said she’s at her best — especially defensively — when the game is on the line.
"When there’s the tying run at third, I just block that ball. I’m just a wall," she said.
Allard is looking to make adjustments to the finer points of her game, noting her bunting is a particular focus this year. Woodward stressed Allard is driven to be the best she can in all areas of the game.
"She’s always trying to improve," the Ile Des Chenes-based coach said. "If she gets three out of four runners trying to steal, she wants four of four. She’ll say ‘I should have had that last one.’"
After last year’s U14 title, the strong majority of team members made the jump to the U16 team this year. Though several opposing players are a year older, the Lightning will look to hold their own. The regular season is in its infancy, but the squad placed second at a recent tournament in Monticello, Minn. after struggling there in 2013.
"The bond helped us, knowing each other and how we play," she said.
In addition to fastpitch, Allard also plays volleyball, basketball, and badminton through school. She ultimately hopes to earn a college scholarship and keep playing in the United States after high school.