When Kyla Walker set Baylor’s hitting record with a .415 average last season, she didn’t have to dig deep into the record book to see who she passed.
Before her kid sister came along, Kayce Walker tied Ashley Monceaux for the best single season in school history with a .413 batting average. Like Kyla, Kayce was a freshman when she earned a piece of the school record in 2009.
“I have no chance to break her record, so I have to live with this the rest of my life,” Kayce Walker said. “But I tell people I taught her everything she knows.”
Both the Walker sisters get a laugh out of their good natured rivalry, but there’s a lot of respect between the two despite their seven-year age difference. Kyla has always seen her older sister as a role model and mentor, and still comes to her for hitting tips.
“Hitting has always kind of come naturally to me, but she’s always helped me,” Kyla said. “We talk all the time. Last year, I was kind of nervous going into the season trying to live up to her. But she said go up there and hit and stop thinking about it.”
Kyla hasn’t fallen victim to a sophomore slump. Heading into the Big 12 tournament Friday in Oklahoma City, the diminutive outfielder is hitting .409 and is tied with teammate Lindsey Cargill for the league lead with 72 hits.
Cargill is on pace to set the Baylor hitting record with a league-leading .459 average, but Walker has clearly shown her breakout freshman year was no fluke.
“If there’s one thing I’ll say, the horns kind of come out when Kyla plays,” said Baylor coach Glenn Moore. “She’s got a little edge. Kyla’s extremely competitive within herself, not necessarily with who’s on the other side of the field. It’s just a matter of being able to conquer whatever the task is.”
A natural left-hander, Walker is a slap hitter who uses her speed to beat out a lot of infield hits. Though she has just seven extra-base hits and no homers, she’s stolen 18 bases and puts the heat on opposing teams with her base-running ability.
Though the Baylor media guide lists her height at 5-2, she admits that might be a stretch.
“Maybe on a good day,” Walker grins.
She showed her competitive streak last year after missing the first three weeks of the season with a stress fracture in her back. Dying to get into the lineup, Walker singled in her first collegiate at-bat against Mississippi Valley State.
Though the pitching kept getting tougher, Walker kept improving as the season progressed and hit a league-high .518 in conference games to make first-team all-Big 12. Walker has reached base in a variety of ways to earn all-conference again this year.
“With power hitters, if they’re in a slump, they’re in a slump,” Walker said. “But with a slapper, if your power slap isn’t working, you can soft slap or bunt. You can do so many more things. Speed never goes into a slump, so you just need to put the ball in play.”
Walker said she’s been hitting since she could walk as she grew up watching Kayce play softball. Kayce could see her younger sister not only had the ability to be a potential star, but also had an inquisitive mind.
“Even when she was 4 years old, I always knew she had a great eye for detail,” said Kayce, now a physical therapist in College Station. “We’d go to tournaments every week and she would be sitting in the stands critiquing me. She’d say stuff like, ‘Why did you pop up that bunt?’”
Growing up in Franklin, one of Kyla’s biggest thrills was watching Kayce play outfield for the Lady Bears at the 2011 Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. She hopes to experience it as a player this season.
“It was very exciting sitting in the stands, and I could imagine playing there,” Kyla said. “I still remember all their highlights like Holly Holl and Kelsi Kettler hitting their home runs.”
Later that year, Kyla verbally committed to Baylor before playing her first game as a freshman at Franklin High School. She was already playing for the Impact Gold select league team out of Houston, and the Baylor coaches saw she was already good enough to offer a scholarship.
“I’d like to think that says something about Baylor and Baylor softball for her to follow in her sister’s footsteps,” Moore said. “She feels comfortable. She could have gone just about anywhere she wanted. She had seen the program inside and out and liked what she saw in the school and chose to come here.”
Walker enjoyed a remarkable career at Franklin as she hit .787 and led the Lions to three straight district championships. She made the Class 3A all-state softball team as a senior in 2015, a year after she guided the basketball team to a state semifinal appearance as a point guard.
But she always knew her ticket to college would be as a softball player, and she credits coach K.J. Jackson of the Impact Gold for getting her prepared to hit against college pitchers.
“I give my select team coach a lot of props because he got me ready,” Walker said. “We used to do the same thing over and over and it got me better. I’ve been doing the repetition of hitting for a long time.”
Besides reaching the World Series, Walker’s biggest goal at Baylor is to become an All-American. She sees the names of former Baylor players like Whitney Canion, Brette Reagan and Monceaux on the center-field wall at Getterman Stadium and wants to join them.
“I want my name on the wall,” Walker said. “That’s what I’m striving for now.”
Kayce Walker finished her Baylor career in 2012 with a .343 batting average. If Kyla continues at the current pace, she’ll break the school career hitting mark of .380 by Monceaux in 2006-07.
Kayce doesn’t mind taking a back seat to her younger sister.
“I always said my sister is better than me,” Kayce said. “She’s faster, quicker and everything came so much easier for her. Pitchers usually figure out your weaknesses, but Kyla doesn’t have many. I always joked with Kyla about having a sophomore slump, but she’s not having one at all.”
BEAR FACTS – Baylor landed four first-team all-Big 12 selections on the coaches team including pitcher Kelsee Selman, third baseman Lindsey Cargill and outfielders Kyla Walker and Jessie Scroggins. Scroggins also won defensive player of the year. Second-team picks were second baseman Ari Hawkins and pitcher Gia Rodoni. Shortstop Taylor Ellis, outfielder Maddison Kettler and pitcher-hitter Shelby McGlaun were named to the all-freshman team.