Unorthodox catcher aids GVSU softball

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Kaylie Rhynard (6) catches for Ellie Balbach (11). Grand Valley takes the victory over Walsh in both games held in Allendale on Saturday, April 23, 2016.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Kaylie Rhynard (6) catches for Ellie Balbach (11). Grand Valley takes the victory over Walsh in both games held in Allendale on Saturday, April 23, 2016.

Alex Eisen

With shortstop Teagan Shomin on second base and center fielder Janae Langs on first, catcher Kaylie Rhynard roped a ball into the gap in right center field. The race was on.

The crack of the bat was the equivalent of a starter pistol going off. Three of the fastest players on the Grand Valley State softball team found themselves in a footrace as the ball rolled all the way to wall.

Langs nearly caught Shomin, but the winner by a landslide was Rhynard.

Rhynard, a cross country runner who had to take over the starting gig behind the dish full-time this spring, coasted into third base as her teammates crossed home plate to add on to the Lakers’ lead in game one against Hillsdale on April 24.

Rhynard’s blazing speed on her first triple of the season and perfect 19-for-19 success rate on stolen bases scatters the stereotype of catchers being lethargic.

“It’s not common for a catcher to have speed like that at all,” said GVSU head coach Dana Callihan. “You see it from time-to-time, but most of the catchers are catchers because they don’t move around as well.”

Rhynard, recently named to the All-GLIAC First Team, has started in all 46 games this season and caught 39 of them after starter Marianne Deppe went down with a season-ending injury in GVSU’s annual 12-game spring trip in Florida.

The transition to becoming the permanent catcher has been relatively easy for Rhynard.

“It was more of an adjustment playing in the outfield half the time last year just because it wasn’t my natural position,” Rhynard said. “Behind the plate I never have to think. I’m just so in tuned to my role there and its home to me. So, it really hasn’t been an adjustment mentally or anything. Physically, I mean a little bit just because it’s a lot of games we play, but I think my body has adjusted pretty well.”

Feeling at home behind home, Rhynard’s passion for playing catcher started from an early age.

“When I was really young my brothers were catchers – I have four older brothers – and so I just wanted to be like them,” she said. “I played a lot of positions, but that was always my favorite ever since I was five years old. My dad worked with me a ton when I was young and I just love it. I always have.”

Rhynard cherishes the unique responsibility of a catcher to be a leader, but at the same time being able to avoid the spotlight.

“You’re behind the scenes,” she said. “You don’t get the attention that the pitcher does, and that’s not really my personality. I don’t want that. I love that you are kind of running the show, but from an outsider’s perspective you don’t really see that.”

Brushing off the attention, Rhynard is always putting her teammates first.

“She is very positive and enthusiastic,” Langs said. “She always tries to see the bright side of everything and is always encouraging us when we are going through a slump. When it’s been five innings and we are down, she will be like ‘let’s battle back, battle back.’ Very energetic and a great teammate.”

Fittingly, Rhynard was quick to dismiss the claim that she was the fastest player on the team and gave the honor to Langs, who unselfishly then returned the recognition back to Rhynard.

“We would have to put them in footrace,” Callihan said. “I think they are about even.”

Nonetheless, the speedsters at the top of lineup allow Callihan to be aggressive on the bases to allow the 3-4-5 hitters to do their damage. With 19 stolen bases this season and a team-high nine last year, Rhynard is one swipe away from cracking GVSU’s top 10 in career stolen bases.

“Getting good jumps,” Rhynard said on the key to her success. “It’s really an underestimated part of base running. I’m not super fast. It’s that fraction of second, if you don’t get off the base on time then a lot of the time that’s the difference between being out and safe.”

While Rhynard won’t boast or admit that her athleticism, speed and leadership qualities are exceptional, the coaching staff, spectators and teammates have certainly taken noticed.

“My favorite Kaylie (Rhynard) moment is when it’s dead quiet out here and she is screaming at the top of her lungs talking to us,” Langs said. “Or, watching her backup a throw to first and watching her sprint with all of her gear on is pretty funny too.”