Well-armed for senior year

Severna Park ace Kaila Jenkins looks to end her high school career the same way it began: with a state title.

March 15, 2006|By GLENN GRAHAM | GLENN GRAHAM,SUN REPORTER

Severna Park pitcher Kaila Jenkins has pitched a shutout to win a state title, been a first-team All-Metro selection in each of her first three seasons and is the returning Player of the Year after leading the Falcons to their first Anne Arundel County championship last spring.

Despite all that she has accomplished, however, Jenkins admits to being a little nervous as her senior season is set to begin.

"I guess it's the most important season because it's the one you'll always remember. So it's a lot of pressure," she said. "You want to win the county championship, the region championship and the state championship - you want to go out with a bang."

Jenkins would like to go out exactly how she came in, but the lofty standard she set in her freshman season makes it a sturdy challenge.

As a ninth-grader, she pitched four shutouts in the playoffs, including a no-hitter and perfect game. She also outlasted a pitcher who struck out the Falcons' first 18 batters to win the state title game, 1-0.

"It's one of those things where it happened, and when it's all over, you're excited and everything, but it doesn't completely click," Jenkins said. "Now, three years later, everything is clicking more and you better understand: `Wow! That was special.' It's crazy some of the stuff our team did in 2003 - you just don't realize it until you try to do it again and again."

The Falcons have tried, but have come up just short in the previous two seasons, falling in the state title game in 2004 and then getting knocked off in the regional final last spring.

That's become added incentive for Jenkins, who has five pitches in her collection, including a rise ball that batters can't stay off or catch up to.

"A lot of kids accomplish great things in a flash and then may relax or something like that," Severna Park coach Jeff Shepherd said. "But there's a determination that comes with Kaila - she's so intense and you can see it in her face. She just never accepts where she is. She sets a goal and then when she reaches it, she finds another one. I don't think she can ever be in a position where she doesn't feel she can be better."

With an athletic, 6-foot frame and facial expressions that display confidence, determination and poise, Jenkins is an imposing figure on the mound (48-9 career mark) as well as at the plate, where she hit .552 with 33 RBIs last season. It leaves opposing batters baffled and opposing pitchers concerned.

"She's basically a bulldog on the mound. She's not going to give in," Chesapeake of Anne Arundel County coach Don Ellenberger said. "And the other aspect of her is she's a good all-around player. It's not like she's just a pitcher and that's all she does. You definitely don't want to throw her any meatballs up there."

After playing soccer and basketball throughout her childhood, Jenkins decided to focus on softball as she got into high school. Playing for the Riviera Beach Spirit in the fall, winter and summer makes softball an around-the-clock activity for Jenkins, which is fine with her.

"Some people don't understand me because that's constantly what I want to do," Jenkins said. "My friends - they may want to go see a movie or something - but I want to go to the batting cages. I'm like, `What's wrong with that?' That's fun to me. If you like something, you're going to want to do it."

Winning state titles at Severna Park runs in Jenkins' family. Her mother, Rochelle Jenkins, was a senior first baseman when the Falcons won their only other crown in 1987.

"I won one at Severna Park and she won the other - it's kind of neat," Rochelle Jenkins said. "Going into the state tournament, I told her what an honor it was to be there and all the big expectations from everyone to win it. But I said just go have fun because a lot of people that go through high school never get a chance to play in a state championship. I didn't want her to have this big letdown, but she kept saying, `No, we're going to win.' "

Jenkins exudes that competitive spirit, and not just on the softball field. For example, there's no such thing as a friendly game of miniature golf - she wants the hole-in-one.

"Kaila just wants to be the best at everything she does," Severna Park second baseman Alyssa Warco said. "She works hard at everything she does just being a competitive person by nature. She's a leader and everybody on the team looks up to her - she just has everything going for her."

With an interest in marine biology and a desire to go to college in Florida since she was 10, Jenkins, who maintains a 3.3 grade point average, plans to study at Tallahassee Community College and then move on to Florida State.

For now, the focus is on bringing home another state title at Severna Park. As a senior captain, Jenkins also wants to help the younger players, much like the seniors looked after her in 2003.

"Senior year - a state championship is the best thing you can ask for. It would be the end of a perfect season," she said."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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