Kayla Gray didn’t expect it.
But it was the best gift ever.
Gray is a junior shortstop on the Archbishop Ryan High School softball team, and she’s been a key cog in the Ragdolls lineup since she arrived as a freshman.
She figured if, just as she did during her first two years at the school, she put in hard work and continued to be a great teammate, she would get a chance at representing the team as a captain.
Turns out she didn’t have to wait as long as she thought.
“I found out before the season, we had a talk after a normal day of practice,” said Gray, who lives in Bensalem. “Our two seniors, that wasn’t much of a (surprise), we knew they were the leaders. Then they announced we had two junior captains and I was one of them. I was really honored.
Gray had hopes that the young Ryan team would be able to compete in the Catholic League. The Ragdolls did that and then some.
Ryan finished second in a very crowded Catholic League during the regular season, then went on to make the Catholic League championship game, where it fell to Conwell-Egan.
The Ragdolls recovered to beat Swenson in the District 12 championship, then went on to knock off Villa Maria 10-9 in the first round of the state 4A tournament.
The run came to an end Thursday when the Ragdolls fell 12-2 to Northwestern Lehigh, ending the season.
With such a young roster, few expected the Ragdolls to have the season they did, but everyone on the team had full confidence since the season began, even after the team dropped its Catholic League opener.
“I expected us to be good, but it was a surprise that we did this good for a lot of people,” Gray said. “We work for this every year, we usually do pretty well and we played pretty well this year. It was a good season.
“We didn’t start off great, we had some struggles. I don’t know exactly when things started going right, but I always have confidence in this team. We’re a very close team. I love them and put all of my trust in them.”
That trust formed fairly quickly.
Gray didn’t have a lot of time to grow into her role with the Ragdolls. She was immediately inserted into the starting lineup at second base. There, she not only got the experience of playing varsity softball right from the start, she had a chance to learn from a team that had a rosterful of experienced, star players.
Not only were they good players, they were more than generous with their time. And with the rookie playing second, the Ragdolls won the Catholic League championship.
“We had a lot of seniors, that team was close and put together and from there we tried to carry it out for them,” Gray said. “I learned so much just playing with them. I was kind of nervous coming in, but they were all welcoming and they were all a lot of help, the older girls were really supportive. It was a really good team and pushed me to do my best because I was playing with so many great players.”
Now she tries to be that player.
She also tries to help the team the best she can with her play, both in the field and at the plate, where she hits leadoff.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure we’re ready and in the beginning of the game, I have to make sure to have an at-bat that people can learn from because I’m first,” she said. “On defense, I try to play my best, but we have the best pitcher, she’s so good. We try to do our part for her, she always does her part.
“I’m on the left side with our two seniors, so I really love our side, it’s pretty solid, I know they’re so good.”
While she’s really going to miss the seniors, third baseman Janine Swift and outfielder Sabrina Pastino, she knows they’ve left this team with everything they need to get back to the top of the Catholic League mountain.
“We’re going to miss them so much, they were so important to everything, just everything we did,” Gray said. “But I really like the team we have coming back. We have great girls that I trust. We are so bonded. I think that’s going to help us.”
While Gray is there to help her teammates, she did shout out a person who has attended all of her games. Gray is lucky to have a very supportive family, but there’s little doubt who her biggest fan is.
“My grandmom has always been my No. 1 supporter and never failed to show up for anything,” said Gray, who plays defense on the Ragdolls field hockey team. “She’s been a big help with the rest of my family. She’s not the biggest sports fan, but she’s a big fan of mine, especially in softball.”
She’s had a lot to cheer about. And even more next year.
“I’ve had so much fun at Ryan and so much fun playing for these teams,” Gray said. “It all started with freshman year and that team. That was the starting point. I was a baby freshman, but I kept working and now I’m a captain. It’s kind of crazy.
“I really want to have a great year next year. This year, we just wanted to keep winning so we had another game with the seniors. Next year, I think we’re going to be very good.”