As the basketball bounces off the rim, Kyla Irwin can move deftly into rebounding position for a put-back for two points. Just as quickly she can shoot out to the wing and with a sweet stroke drain a 3-pointer.
Timed perfectly, she can take a quick set and with ferocity hammer the volleyball into the floor.
It is rare that an athlete earns All-State honors in two different sports, but Kyla Irwin is in rare company.
It is for those rare qualities that Irwin was honored as the Centre Daily Times’ first female Inspiring Athlete of the Year.
“It’s such an awesome feeling just to be honored in the first place for the top 40,” Irwin said after winning Sunday. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, so it was really cool walking in there, seeing all my peers, all the people I play against and stuff. Just to win it was awesome. I couldn’t be happier.”
Irwin excels in both, but she certainly is strongest in basketball, giving a verbal commitment last October to the best women’s basketball program in the country, 10-time national champion Connecticut.
Even as she continues playing club basketball this spring and summer, playing in tournaments, she still works on her game and tries to improve.
“The standard of a UConn commit is a major thing,” said the 6-foot-2 junior forward.
She may not have the stress of worrying about impressing college coaches, but she still enjoys taking a peek into the seats as she travels the country.
“It’s a lot more fun because I’m not too worried about the coaches there,” Irwin said. “I never really was, but now it’s like, ‘Oh, cool, I wonder who they are there to watch.’”
Irwin scored her 1,000th point in the opening weeks of her junior season, and has 1,397 through her three-year career, already ranking third on the Lady Little Lions’ all-time scoring list. She led the team with 20 points and 13 rebounds a game en route to her second All-State honor.
She helped her team to the District 6 title as a sophomore and to the district finals this past season, losing a heartbreaker in the closing seconds to Altoona.
“We played hard and did the best we could,” Irwin said. “Obviously we wish that game didn’t end the way that it did, but we’re going to take the offseason, getting stronger and faster, and just better. Hopefully next year we’ll get that District 6 title and keep going in the playoffs.”
She also posted 258 kills, 83 blocks and 68 aces for the volleyball team as it grabbed a third straight district title, with Irwin helping out as middle hitter. She may not spend much time honing her volleyball skills, but it does contribute to her athletic abilities.
“It really does help,” Irwin said. “It puts me in a different atmosphere, almost. I get to meet new people and be competitive in a different type of way.”
She is carrying a 3.95 grade-point average, and volunteers with the State College basketball team’s summer camp and also with a number of other organizations. She also has a strong will and doesn’t get rattled when an opponent tries to get into her head.
“It’s what UConn saw in her, and what a lot of the other colleges saw in her,” her coach and mother, Bethany Irwin, said earlier this year. “It’s not just putting the ball in the hoop, it’s the passion for the game she has.”
Kyla Irwin also knows she may hear from more college coaches, but it would be tough to convince her to change her mind.
“They might be thinking about it,” Irwin laughed, “but they won’t budge me anywhere.”