At this time last week, Kyla Molzhon was dissecting a fetal pig.
Before that the Thompson Falls senior was digging around in a sheep brain. Before that, an eyeball from a cow. When it comes to talking about her favorite high school class - anatomy and physiology - Molzhon is not squeamish.
"I like to take things apart," she says.
An all-state pitcher, Molzhon has made a career out of dissecting things on the diamond, particularly opposing batters. Instead of a scalpel, tweezers and the occasional tongue depressor, though, Molzhon uses a 58 mph fastball, change-ups and the occasional screwball to cut up anyone who dares step inside the batter's box.
"She's so driven at everything she does," Thompson Falls softball coach Randy Pirker says. "There's no half way with her. It's all or nothing."
When the high school offered the more in-depth anatomy and physiology class, Molzhon didn't hesitate to sign up. She'd already studied similar stuff as part of her freshman biology class. There would be no surprises. Or so Molzhon thought.
"When we did (animal dissection) the first time, my freshman year, I thought it smelled way worse," she says. "I don't know if they got new formaldehyde, or what, but it doesn't smell nearly as bad this time."
So far, Molzhon's final season is also coming up roses.
Molzhon is one reason why the Bluehawks are 17-2 this spring and on the verge of either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed heading into the inaugural Western B-C divisional tournament next week in Thompson Falls. The tournament hosts are one of the top contenders from this side of the divide who are looking at discontinuing the reign of three-time defending state champion Columbus/Absarokee/
The co-op team from the Eastern B-C, which went by the handle Stillwater Renegades for awhile, has a history with Thompson Falls. The Renegades rallied in their last at-bat to beat the Bluehawks, 4-3, in the State B-C title game in 2008. Thompson Falls had a one-run lead and were one out away from its first championship when things fell apart.
"That's one that will be in my heart forever," Pirker says. "It was an awesome game, with amazing plays. To lose it was pretty sad. ... The other day one of the girls on that team came up to me and said, ‘It's my fault we lost that game' and I said ‘No way, that was a team loss.' It's amazing what high school girls will carry with them."
"We were up by one; we made two errors and they scored on both of them. That's what I remember most," says Molzhon, who started at third base that day. "But I also remember we played like five games in a row just to get to that point. That was pretty cool."
It was a program-defining moment for the Bluehawks, who won four consecutive loser-out games, including one over Stillwater, to force that decisive second championship game two days later in Anaconda. Molzhon pitched mostly in relief of starter Bria Howard that year, but Molzhon went the distance in a loser-takes-third win over Loyola Sacred Heart that put Thompson Falls in the finals.
"She pitched like no other," Pirker says. "That's when we knew she'd be a really good one, and she's flat been on ever since."
Perhaps it's misleading that Molzhon wears No. 2 on her softball uniform, considering she's so well-known for her old No. 1 - the fastball. Molzhon has increased her speed each season, Pirker says, and he's hoping she tops out at 60 mph before the year is done.
Molzhon uses a weighted ball to build her arm strength and to strengthen her legs she runs the hills near the school, just like the football team, Pirker says. But the 17-year-old's biggest advantage over the competition may be what's inside her.
"What helps make a good fastball?" asks Molzhon, repeating the question her interviewer just asked. "Usually when I'm mad. That works pretty well."
And what gets her to that point?
"Calls by the umpires mostly," she says.
"She's very aggressive when she's on the rubber," Pirker says, "but she can hit her corners too. Her biggest problem is getting the umpires to call that."
That's where a good catcher comes in handy. And that's what Molzhon has in fellow senior Karli Cavill, one of five all-staters on the team - two come by way of the recent addition of Noxon players. Cavill, who started at first base on the 2008 runner-up team, moved into Molzhon's firing line just this season and has done extremely well, Pirker says. They warm-up together before every game, running through a progression of "snaps" that get Molzhon's right arm ready to go.
Molzhon can be pretty particular about her technique, even at the plate, where she's posted double digit home runs in her prep career.
"She's a stubborn kid," Pirker says, "but stubborn is a good thing. It's all part of that drive. When you get somebody that's stubborn on the mound, you know they're not going to give up. She works her way out of a lot of jams that way."
Pirker first encountered Molzhon as an 8-year-old when she came to one of his bi-weekly pitching camps at the high school. She usually came to the Sunday sessions and quickly caught her future coach's eye.
"She was a natural," he says. "She showed her stuff off from the very beginning."
Pirker started working with Molzhon and by the time she was 10 she was throwing 45 mph. Pirker was so impressed he invited her to come pitch to the high school girls.
"They were just doing bunting practice off me," Molzhon says. "But it was cool because I got to practice with the big girls."
A few years later Molzhon was pressed into the starting pitching role as a freshman when Howard, the Bluehawks' normal starter, suffered a groin injury. Molzhon remembers being intimidated at first, but pitched well enough to help Thompson Falls finish in the top half at the 16-team state tourney. Last year, the Bluehawks placed in the top five.
Molzhon, who's taking her game to Jamestown University next fall, believes this season will be one people are dissecting for years.
"We have a good chance to win - a lot better than last year - with the Noxon girls coming down and everything," Molzhon says. "That's given us a better opportunity. Hopefully it turns out in our favor."