BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. - For a high school student-athlete being asked by a college coach to continue playing the sport she loves at the next level is a dream come true. So think of the elation the Ballard family enjoyed when the University of Indianapolis asked Northwestern senior Kylie Ballard to play two sports in college?
"It is just good to know that I am going somewhere, so I am really excited and am glad I get to play a second sport,” said Ballard, minutes after signing a letter of intent to play on the Lady Greyhound basketball team. She previously had signed to high jump on the school’s women’s track and field team. “I already knew some people there, so that will make it easier.”
Ballard is a multi-sports superstar for the Lady Tigers. On the basketball floor, she is a 5-11 forward who was named a Top 60 player in Indiana by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, is a member of the 1,000 Point Club, and has the rare distinction of being a Mid-Indiana Conference first team honoree in all four years she has played.
She finished her career with 1,085 career points, which ranks fourth-best among Lady Tigers. Only Kim Tussinger (1,331), Katy Hinkle (1,202) and Marci Norris (1,101) have scored more points while dressing in the purple and white. In Howard County girls basketball, she is the 24th best scorer of all-time.
On the track, she is a record-breaking, two-time state qualifier in the high jump. As a junior, she cleared 5-7 to finish fourth in the IHSAA state championships. She also holds the prestigious Kokomo Relays high jump record, which she set during the 87th running of the “Oldest continuous high school track meet in the United States.”
“What a great athlete, and just a great kid,” said Todd Miller, who recently resigned as the Northwestern girls basketball coach. “She is a very high character kid who has dedicated herself to her sports. It has been a joy to have her, and I think she is on the rise. We had to play her in a wing position, and she is kind of untapped there because she can play the perimeter as well.”
UIndy women’s basketball coach Constantin Popa is thrilled to have Ballard join the squad and agrees with Miller’s assessment of the potential for the hoopster to grow on the court.
“Kylie is a fine young woman with great potential,” said Popa, whose squad qualified for the NCAA Division II national tournament last season. “She is a talented basketball player who will have an excellent opportunity to make a significant impact at UIndy on and off the basketball court. She's is a tremendous rebounder and she possesses the versatility to play in the post and also out on the perimeter. Kylie will definitely fit in our style of play, and I think she's just scratching the surface of her potential.”
Ballard said one of the thrills of her career was getting to play with her sister, Hannah, who was a freshman on this year’s Lady Tigers team.
“That was awesome,” she said with a big smile. “It is always good to play with a sibling, and I am glad we got to play together. Volleyball is her big sport – she is definitely a volleyball girl - but she loves basketball, and I loved getting to play with her for a year. And she is high jumping with me this year.”
According to Northwestern Athletic Director Dan Armstrong, Ballard, a member of the National Honor Society, is the kind of student-athlete that the entire school can look up to.
“Earlier in the winter, I said how important she was to Northwestern,” he said. “Any time you have someone go to the next level to play sports, you are doing something right. For Kylie to go, it says something about Northwestern athletics and Kylie’s desire. I think that is awesome.
“Her work ethic is non-stop. She has not taken a break at any time in high school and will earn 12 varsity letters, which is almost unheard of anymore. And she is still playing AAU during the summer and fulfilling what her basketball, volleyball and track coaches ask of her during that time. She gets no breaks and still loves it. It is exciting to see her, and I hope all of our student-athletes look up to her and want to be like her. She is a role model inside and outside of the classroom. Our students should look up to her.”
Miller said Ballard is a “leader by example. She plays hard and plays under control and steady. She could have played the game for herself, but she didn’t – she is a team player. We are calmer when she is on the floor; she can keep everyone in perspective. And she has a great grade point average. She just worked through high school on academics and sports.”
And there is no doubt that Ballard will continue with her superior work ethic and will represent Northwestern and the Kokomo-area very well in the Circle City.