By KEITH SPARKS
The Kuhlmann siblings have somewhat of a monopoly going on with Liberty Hill sports at the moment.
Clayton, the oldest, is a senior who just finished his final season with Liberty Hill High School’s basketball team. Haley, the youngest, has dominated a number of track and field events at Liberty Hill Junior High this season. Kinsey, the middle child, is currently starting at second base for the number one state-ranked Liberty Hill High School softball team.
Though only a sophomore, Kuhlmann has found herself thrust into a leadership role on the softball team. With only two seniors on the team, that responsibility can fall on any one of the Lady Panthers, and Kuhlmann stepped up to the plate, both literally and figuratively.
“I’ve always, even in select softball, tried to be a big leader,” Kuhlmann said. “I just like motivating people. I like pushing people to their limits. Joely (Williamson) takes care of a lot, but definitely next year, when I’m an upperclassman and the year after, as a senior, I’ll make sure I’m a big leader.”
While she leads the Lady Panthers in steals this season with 14, Kuhlmann’s biggest impact is arguably felt on the defensive end at second base. According to Kuhlmann, that’s been the case for years.
“When I was younger, I won lots of defensive MVP awards in select tournaments,” she said. “I really enjoy playing defense, because you get to make all these cool plays, and backing up my pitcher, and all that good stuff.”
You often see many of the fastest players in high school sports run track, as well, but with softball overlapping track season, the oft-injured Kuhlmann has opted to stay off the track to decrease her chances of injury and improve her likelihood of making an impact on the field at the college level when the time comes.
“I get injured a lot, so I try to minimize what I do,” she said. “I’m playing college softball, so I don’t want to hurt myself now and it bite me in the butt later.”
Liberty Hill Head Softball Coach Charice Hankins pointed to Kuhlmann’s maturity level as her biggest improvement this season, explaining that the sophomore is continually learning how to move on to the next play.
“She’s maturing, and she’s learning how to let things go,” Hankins said. “She’s not getting bogged down on what just happened, and she’s focusing on what needs to happen next. She’s maturing. She’s learning to be a player that is going to have to make an impact.”
Although defense is her calling card, Kuhlmann’s offensive numbers aren’t too shabby. She’s scored 18 runs, has 32 hits, including seven doubles, two triples, and four home runs, 21 RBIs, and is batting .410 on the season.
Kuhlmann has already committed to Ole Miss to play softball, explaining that the campus simply felt like home. She took quite a few college visits, including trips to the West Coast to visit Cal and Stanford, before making her commitment, but none made the same impact on her that Ole Miss did.
“The people there are pretty great,” Kuhlmann said of Ole Miss. “I like the southern part of it. Ole Miss is one of the first schools I visited, and I remember calling my parents and going ‘Ole Miss is where I belong. It feels like home to me.’”
Kuhlmann, who moved with her family to Liberty Hill during her second semester of eighth grade, found the transition from Pflugerville a bit easier, due in large part to the friendships she had already made through softball. Her select team, the Texas Blaze, includes fellow sophomore Carissa Garza, who has been Kuhlmann’s best friend since the two were in kindergarten. Her long-time friendship with Garza, coupled with her outgoing personality, made it easy to settle in.
“I’m not going to lie, Liberty Hill is a lot different than Pflugerville,” Kuhlmann said, “but I’m not shy, and I’m really outgoing, so I was able to make friends really fast. Playing school sports helped me a lot, too.”
Senior Panther Sam Barnett, also on the Texas Blaze, moved to Liberty Hill less than two years ago, and Kuhlmann likes to think she had a role to play in her decision to become a Panther.
“It’s been really fun with Sam,” Kuhlmann said. “Sam moved here not too long ago. I met her at On Deck, this world softball ranking thing, and that’s where we motivated her to move to Liberty Hill, because we knew they were looking out here. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s fun playing with her. I love her to death, and she’s a really good teammate. She can hit the ball. That girl can hit.”
Those friendships off the field have paid dividends on it, as well, according to Kuhlmann, and her friends from other schools have taken notice.
“I honestly think it’s how close we all are,” Kuhlmann said. “We gel really, really well. I’ve had lots of people comment on stuff like that. Lots of people wish they had the friendship that we all have. With that friendship, we back each other up a lot. If somebody’s having a bad game, it’s like, ‘Dude, I got you.’ That’s how we are. We’re all competitive, we don’t like losing, and we’re all there for each other.”
Hankins echoed Kuhlmann’s statement about not liking to lose, explaining that one of her biggest hurdles between now and her senior year will be learning how to be “less hard on herself.”
“She’s one of those players that, if she’s not batting 1.000, she feels like she’s not doing good,” Hankins said. “You know, both softball and baseball, statistically, you’re not going to be able to bat 1.000 forever, you’re not going to be able to bat .500 forever. Just learning how to own her strengths and trying to learn to be a bit less hard on herself, I hope.”
When asked about Coach Hankins’ message to the team as they approach the playoffs, Kuhlmann pointed out the Lady Panthers’ team shirts with the phrase “SCB” printed on them, which stands for “State Championship Bound,” and how important their attitude is during their pursuit of a state title.
“Everything that she tells us is about our attitude towards the game,” Kuhlmann said. “We talk about attitude a lot, how we need to stay positive no matter what, that as long as we’re giving 100 percent, we’re never going to fail, even if we lose.”
Liberty Hill’s final district game will take place at home on Friday, April 21 against Lampasas, where the Panthers will celebrate Senior Night. One week later, the playoffs begin, and hopefully their team shirts ring true.