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Monday, October 2, 2023


Holas’ competitive nature leads keeps team focused

Kyla Holas, the only coach the program has ever known, with her ubber competitive nature toward sports and life has allowed her and the players to grow into a consistent NCAA tournament contender.  | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

Kyla Holas, the only coach the program has ever known, has a competitive nature toward sports and life that has allowed her and the players to grow into a consistent NCAA tournament contender. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

It’s a sunny afternoon when Kyla Holas takes the mound.

Practice has already begun, and Holas, behind a pitcher’s protective screen, sticks to her practice routine of pitching to her players.

The Cougars (29-19) are hoping to be sharp before the May 8 start of the American Athletic Conference championships at Cougar Softball Stadium. They haven’t been as of late. They’ve lost seven straight conference games after starting off 11-0 in league play.

At one point, one of the players hits a blooper toward right field. The outfielder makes a diving catch. “That’s my girl,” Holas shouts.

A few batters later, the shortstop overplays a groundball, which strolls into right field. “Nice effort,” Holas says. Other players joke with her and begin to yell, “Too hot to handle.”

Holas embraces gamesmanship, even among her players. Combining that with her fierce ambition has been the method that has presented consistent success.

“We got to remember the game is about having fun,” Holas said. “It’s fun to trash talk, it’s fun to be competitive and it’s fun to go versus someone. That’s the reason why we play.”

Placed along Cougar Softball Stadium’s left field fence are banners that commemorate six NCAA Regional appearances and two NCAA Super Regional appearances — all of which Holas has been responsible for, a tough task for future coaches of the program to top.

Holas has been the lone head coach since the program began in 2001. Earlier this month, she earned her 500th career win.

“I honestly don’t even keep track of those. I always look at our team’s success,” said Holas, whose Cougars are on pace to finish their 13th consecutive winning season. “We still haven’t got to the Women’s College World Series. That’s something that I’ve always wanted for this program to be able to say.”

If the Cougars are to achieve that goal, they’ll have to shake off the rust — and Holas hates to lose, even if it’s not on the field.

She often gets into battles with the staff and players on the team bus when it comes to “QuizUp,” a popular game she plays on her cell phone. Senior outfielder Kendra Cullum said she “hates to admit it, but (Holas) is hard to beat. She’s just always so competitive and always wants to win.”

To say Holas is competitive is simply an understatement.

“Unfortunately, I am. It can be a good thing and sometimes a bad thing,” Holas said. “I probably hate losing more than I love winning. I’m always trying to be better than myself and be better than the opponent.”

Holas, an only child, said she gets the competitive gene from her mother, who also played sports, but she credits both her parents for the person she is today.

“It molded and shaped me to keep pushing. I’ve probably took (being competitive) a little too far sometimes — but that’s who I am.”

As a player, Holas was a three-time All-American at Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) and led her team to a third-place finish at the 1993 WCWS while earning All-Tournament Team honors.

Holas isn’t the only one whose ambition hits the ceiling — she has gotten her players to buy into the same philosophy. Senior catcher Haley Outon said Holas’ method has helped her become a better player.

“Her thing has been all about being competitive and that details matter. That’s helped me get to where I am,” said Outon, last season’s Conference USA Player of the Year. “With her being a pitcher, she really helps me as a catcher in terms of knowing what to say, knowing when to call timeouts. And then as a hitter, I use what I learn from catching from her, then apply that to hitting.”

Senior outfielder Kendra Cullum was initially recruited by Holas but chose Kansas instead. Two years later, she transferred to UH. Kullum said that decision has been paramount, because Holas’ competitive spirit is what she was looking for.

Kullum said she has dealt with coaches who had low expectations of their players, and Holas is the opposite.

“She believes everyone is better than what they are. She wants to win, and that’s what I want to do. I love that about her,” Kullum said. “Whenever I came here, they took me in their arms and worked with me, because they believed in me. They had to make me believe in myself.”

Holas strives for her players to be competitive in life as well as sports.

“Whether it’s in the job force in the classroom, she’s taught us to be competitive and always give that 100 percent, no matter where you’re at, because there will always be someone trying to one-up you,” Outon said. “It’s always about trying to get better every day and wake up better than you were yesterday.”

Holas competes with her players on the field and enjoys dishing out clever banter so they can be prepared when other teams do the same. She’s hard on her 15 players but said she cares for them as much as her three children.

“They’re an extension of my family.”

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