Know your Lakers: GVSU catcher Kaylie Rhynard delivering at the plate

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.

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.

Kellen Voss

The Grand Valley State softball team is exceeding already-high expectations this season, as the Lakers’ current record is 29-5. They remain undefeated in the GLIAC with a 16-0 record, holding sole possession of first place in the conference while being in the midst of a 21-game winning streak.

There have been many reasons for this team’s success, including the high performance and consistency from the catcher position. Redshirt junior Kaylie Rhynard is the reason for that consistency.

Rhynard has been the emotional leader, using her experience and winning mentality to help her fellow teammates succeed. She has also been a statistical leader this season, posting a team-high .438 batting average and 43 hits, while also adding 15 RBIs to her resume.

Rhynard’s success can be credited to her active childhood, as she was once a young girl who wanted to compete with her brothers in as many sports as she could.

“Growing up, catcher was always my favorite position because that’s what my brothers played,” Rhynard said. “I played hockey for five years growing up, as well as cross country, track, volleyball, basketball and soccer. But I always loved softball.”

The catcher has been contributing to the Lakers for a while, appearing in an impressive 45 games as a true freshman, before starting every game in her sophomore season.

Rhynard started off the 2017 year strong before going down with a season-ending knee injury after only appearing in 10 games. In her time out, Rhynard spent time improving herself as not only a softball player, but also as a student and a person.

“Tearing my ACL was definitely the best and worst thing that has happened to me as a softball player,” Rhynard said. “The recovery process was grueling, but I already feel mentally and physical stronger than I did a few years ago, so it definitely helped me develop as a player and made me appreciate the game more.”

A true embodiment of a student athlete, Rhynard has been selected to the GLIAC All-Academic Excellence team in 2016 and 2017, and should appear on the team again in 2018. Academics were arguably the main reason for her arrival at GVSU, since she fell in love with the teaching program here.

“I played travel ball out of Grand Rapids, so I knew the area very well,” Rhynard said. “I wanted to go into education, and GV has a great program for that. I wanted to be close to home, but not too close, so I felt like GVSU was the perfect distance away at an hour and 45 minutes.”

Rhynard pairs great performance in the classroom with great work at the plate, posting a career batting average of .313 at GVSU as well as starting in 108 of the 111 games she has appeared in. As of Tuesday, April 17, she has totaled 157 hits, 15 doubles and 51 RBIs in just 145 games.

The success just keeps rolling for Rhynard this season, and she credits the individual and team success to a change in mindset since her redshirt season last year.

“Mentally, I’m a lot more confident,” Rhynard said. “I can now point out things in the field (from the batter’s box) that I couldn’t last year, and I’m not as worried about the outcomes this year. I’ve been through a lot mentally, and I’m still working out the kinks, but I’m still trying to just focus less on the outcomes and more on the process and staying in the moment.”

When discussing her growth as a player and as a person these past few years, Rhynard proved to be selfless, as she only mentioned other people’s names when talking about her growth as a human being who just loves to play softball.

“It’s definitely been a great experience here, and I’m surrounded by so many awesome players and coaches,” Rhynard said. “They’ve really helped me grow and impacted me beyond softball.”

Like the rest of her teammates, Rhynard has high expectations for this team, but she truly believes they have all the pieces and the mindset to make a postseason run that lasts more than a couple rounds. She doesn’t feel as if this is a one-year thing, either, as she sees this Laker team being just as successful next season.

“I think we can make a deep run,” she said. “I’d like to go to the World Series, and there’s no reason we can’t compete for a national title. And next year, we have a lot of returners and awesome players coming in, so we’re just going to keep growing on this success.”

After Rhynard puts away her bats and hangs up her cleats for good, she’s not going to remember any of the games she played in, she said. Instead, she’s going to remember the relationships she built with the people around her and how happy she felt being surrounded by a great group of young women.

“This is an awesome team with many personalities and experiences,” Rhynard said. “After it is all said and done, you don’t remember the wins or the losses or the hits, but you do remember all the memories and how all your people around you made you feel. That’s definitely what I will take away from this experience.”

Rhynard and GVSU look to continue the success they’ve seen this season this weekend. They stay home for a doubleheader with Ashland on Saturday, April 21, and a doubleheader with Tiffin on Sunday, April 22. Saturday’s games are set to start at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and the games on Sunday will start at noon and 2 p.m.