BY DEAN HOCKNEY
Good things come to good people, and from all accounts, Northwestern senior three-sport standout Kylie Ballard is one of those good people. So when the talented hoopster joined the ranks of Lady Tigers basketball elite, not a bad word could be heard about the newest member of the 1,000 Point Club.
“She is Northwestern,” stated Tigers Athletic Director Dan Armstrong. “She means a lot to this school and the community. She is just a great young lady and we will be sorry to see her go. You get used to seeing someone like that walk the halls; someone who doesn’t get in any trouble and just comes out every day and works. When they aren’t there, you miss them. She will be missed a year from now. And education comes first as she is also a great student.”
Ballard entered last Saturday’s Mid-Indiana Conference game against Maconaquah needing nine points to go over 1,000 for her career. After scoring the first six points of the game, fans started getting excited. Then, with 2:05 left in the second quarter and the Lady Tigers holding a slim 17-15 lead, Ballard took a pass, stepped back behind the 3-point arc, and let fly a shot that would send the crowd into a standing ovation and start the tears flowing from family and teammates.
“I knew I had three points left, so I kind of thought I wanted to get it over with,” said Ballard of her step-back triple. “I don’t like pondering over things, so I wanted to get it over with so we could keep playing.”
Ballard’s shot so energized the Lady Tigers that they would hold the Lady Braves to just five points the rest of the game and coast to a 44-20 victory. And that pretty much sums up the Northwestern season and how important Ballard is to the squad. Northwestern started the season 3-5 as Ballard sat on the bench with a leg injury. But since her return, the Lady Tigers are 5-2 and look to be peaking at the right time with sectionals just around the corner.
“You could see we were a different team without her,” said Armstrong. “As soon as she came back, she calmed the team down and that tells you what kind of leadership she provides.”
Ballard joins Kim Tussinger (1,331), Katy Hinkle (1,202), Marci Norris (1,101) and Heather Luttrell (1,084) in the Lady Tigers 1,000 Point Club. She is the 11th overall at Northwestern, and the 32nd girl and 60th overall in the 109-year history of Howard County basketball to score 1,000 points. Those numbers are not lost on head coach Todd Miller.
“To be the fifth player is just such an honor and we have talked to our other girls about the significance of this,” said Miller. “You can have some really good players that don’t make it to 1,000 points. You have to have a good career, and she came in her freshman year and has been our leading scorer every year. She is an absolute joy to coach and I couldn’t be happier for her.”
Everyone agrees that Ballard is a hard worker both on and off the court. And along the way she has come up with various injuries, like the leg injury that slowed her this year. But one injury that didn’t stop her happened in her very first Northwestern basketball game.
“She started in her first game against Kokomo as a freshman, and in warm-ups of that game she broke the first knuckle of one of her fingers,” said Armstrong. “But she wanted to play so bad she didn’t say anything. I was watching the game thinking it didn’t look right, but she had a double-double in that first game with a broken finger – 10 points and 10 rebounds. That tells you what kind of player she is.”
Ballard and Miller both chuckled at the story as the memory returned, and she admitted she just loves the competition.
“I don’t care what the statistics are, I just want to play,” she said. “I love the drive no matter if I am hurting or not.”
Ballard, who is in the midst of an outstanding three-sport prep career (volleyball, basketball and track and field), will continue her career at the University of Indianapolis this fall as a dual-sport athlete. She is the two-time sectional runner-up in the high jump and finished fourth as a junior at the 38th Annual IHSAA State Girls Track and Field Championships in Bloomington.
“She is a leader in this school,” said Armstrong. “She is a three-sport athlete and is going to the next level to play basketball and high jump – so she is a two-sport college athlete which is almost unheard of at the NCAA Division II level. She works extremely hard, and with her work ethic, she is just an amazing leader.”
“I think it is going to be a lot of fun,” said Ballard of her college future. “I didn’t want to stop playing and am excited about playing in college. But I couldn’t get there without my teammates, my family and my coach – they were all very supportive of me. My whole family has supported me. It was nice and overwhelming seeing all of the signs of support today in the crowd.”
And those signs of support would not have been on display if Kylie Ballard were not such a good person.