Something about having her father as the coach is comforting to Kyla Collier.
Could be her familiarity with Kevin Collier, who is in his 21st year as the Bend High girls tennis coach and has coached Kyla since she first began swinging a racket some 12 years ago. Could be the way Kevin treats his daughter like any other player during practices. Could be any number of things. But this past year tops Kyla’s list of reasons.
Kyla’s doctor, Kevin recalls, was astounded by the extent of the knee injury she suffered a week before the 2017 season was to begin. Kyla was in the doctor’s office because, a day before and while practicing with her mother at Bend Golf and Country Club, Kyla chased after a lob shot. She planted on her left foot, and her knee collapsed. She tore her ACL — in half, Kevin says — as well as her MCL and lateral meniscus.
Kevin remembers hearing the doctor comment on how it was “probably the most impressive tear he’d ever seen.”
“It was pretty devastating,” the longtime Bend coach says. “I’ve enjoyed tennis my whole life. And that was the one day I didn’t like tennis.”
A year after teaming up with Jesse Vezo to win the Class 5A doubles state championship, Kyla was sidelined indefinitely. Her lofty aspirations for her junior year were cut down a week before the season began.
Kyla resorted to serving as something of an assistant coach for the Lava Bears. She underwent surgery soon after the injury and went through months of physical therapy before being cleared to return to action this past November. Certainly Kyla was disappointed. She was emotional. But there for her was her coach — her father.
“Going through rehab, he just reminded me that I was going to be able to get back and come back stronger,” Kyla says, noting the importance of her needing to hear that encouragement from her father. “One of my first thoughts when I did get hurt was, ‘I’m going to miss a whole year (of tennis). I don’t know how I’m going to respond to that next season.’ Having him say it would be OK and I can work hard to get there was really comforting to hear.”
Now a standout senior for Bend, Kyla mentions how committed she was to recovery. Never before, she says, had she been so intent and resolute. She was fueled by frustration and driven toward returning for her senior season and making it her strongest ever.
“It wasn’t really that painful,” Kyla says of the injury and ensuing recovery. “It was just the fact that I couldn’t play. I played my entire life and it’s what I love to do. Coming back from winning state, that was hard not being able to play.”
Kyla’s junior season was not what she had hoped. But by no means was it not valuable. She would help the team with drills during practices and provide tips during matches. At the Class 5A Special District 1 championships in Hermiston, for example, Kevin handed his daughter a share of the coaching reins. Of course Kyla would rather have been on the court contributing, but that coaching widened her vision of the sport she loved.
“It’s easier to see it on someone else than yourself on how you can improve,” Kyla says. “And I learned how to enjoy when you can play, especially on some days when you don’t want to go to practice. It reminded me to enjoy it when I can.”
“It was obviously a different outcome than what I anticipated,” Kevin says of the team’s fifth-place finish at districts last spring. The Lava Bears did not send a player to state for the first time since 2006. “For her, the silver lining was she had the opportunity to see it from a different perspective, more of serving the kids and supporting them and understanding what they were going through from a coach’s standpoint versus playing. … She grew quite a bit. Just watching matches, a lot of times that helps you learn how to play, too. When you watch somebody hit the wrong shot and you realize what the right shot is. You try to take the positive out of it.”
The Colliers’ father-daughter, coach-player relationships — strictly separate, they assure — were already strong. After last season, however, the two have grown even closer. As have Kyla and her teammates.
“I think the girls looked up to her as an accomplished player and as a leader,” Kevin Collier says. “They definitely listened to her.”
Kevin’s worst day in tennis was spent at the doctor’s office in February 2017. Every day since Kyla returned to playing tennis in November, he says, has been the best. Kyla feels the same way. And with her in the lineup, playing in singles or doubles, Bend is stronger as a team. Perhaps even a district — or state — contender.
“When you have stronger players at the top, it just builds your depth,” Kevin says. “We’ll see how it goes, but she definitely helps us. I’m not saying we’re going to win state or anything, but we have a lot of returning players.”
Kyla, who has been speaking with several college coaches in hopes of competing at the next level, returned to high school competition last Thursday at Bend High, where with a bulky brace on her left knee she won in straight sets and without dropping a game at No. 1 singles against Madras. A two-time state qualifier (her doubles team lost in the quarterfinals when she was a freshman), Kyla is determined to make up for lost time.
“I’m definitely more dedicated and focused,” she says. “But I’m enjoying every moment on the court. Not taking anything for granted is what my mindset is going to be this year.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org .