Kyla Irwin knew it was going to be a tough season, and every single night she would be getting the best an opponent had to offer.
Having Connecticut women’s basketball associated with your name will have that kind of effect.
“That kind of gave me a little target,” she said. “I was used to getting double-teamed or having their best player on me, but this year it was definitely more of being triple-teamed or doubling down. Even when I wasn’t near the ball I still had two people on me, at least, so that definitely put a target on me.”
She handled it all quite well.
The State College junior averaged 20.0 points per game and helped the Lady Little Lions to the District 6 Class AAAA championship game, and it helped land her on the Sports Writers Pennsylvania High School Girls’ Basketball All-State Team.
Irwin was a first-team selection, the first to do so since Katie Glusko in 2002. Irwin also was a second-team selection last season. The program’s only other all-state selection in the last decade was Emily Suhey in 2008.
The 6-foot-2 forward, who also made the all-state list for volleyball last fall, led the Mid Penn Conference in scoring, and has 1,397 points for her career, which is third all-time for the program behind Glusko (1,630) and Suhey (1,518). Irwin also averaged 13.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per game, and made 21 3-pointers.
She committed to the powerhouse women’s program, which is the favorite at this weekend’s Final Four. The Huskies are gunning for a third straight national crown and 10th overall, and are in the Final Four for the eighth year in a row.
The program has a huge national profile and following, and she even had UConn alumni make the trip to watch her games, sitting in the bleachers with “UConn” sweatshirts.
It also meant she got pushed around a little more, and had high expectations on her shoulders every night.
Opponents also would try to get in her head with trash talk, making negative comments about her commitment.
“She wouldn’t be going there,” her mother and State College coach Bethany Irwin said, “with that kind of mentality if that was going to affect her play. We had to laugh at that.”
But facing double teams and defenses geared specifically to stop her did provide a challenge.
“It’s what UConn saw in her, and what a lot of the other colleges saw in her,” Bethany Irwin said. “It’s not just putting the ball in the hoop, it’s the passion for the game she has.”
Kyla Irwin also saw teams merely thrilled to be on the same court. Bethany Irwin recalled a scrimmage between the end of the regular season and the postseason in which the opponent almost seemed in awe of the junior. After a few minutes the team’s coach called a timeout, told them they got their moment of excitement and it was time to worry about basketball.
“It was fun and it was a unique thing to watch,” Bethany Irwin said.
Kyla Irwin plays for the Central PA Elite club team in the spring and summer, and has a full schedule ahead of her. But with her college choice out of the way, she is enjoying just playing the game.
“It took off a lot of weight and pressure,” Irwin said. “I just kind of came in with no worries about that. That was really cool and a lot easier for the season to go through.”