It was a basic maneuver Tylieea Wallace (SO/Overland Park, Kan.) had executed countless times on the basketball court, a simple jump-stop where a player picks up the ball from dribbling, hops and lands with both feet on the floor.
This time something went wrong. Terribly wrong. A searing pain tore through her knee the second she landed. She knew it wasn’t good.
Wallace’s worst fears became reality – a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and devastating news for any athlete. Her hopes of a huge senior season and reaching a significant milestone while playing for her new high school team, Shawnee Mission West, were dashed before they started.
Wallace had transferred to SM West from Schlagle High School after her junior year, leaving a legacy of dominance. She scored 982 points as a member of the Stallions’ varsity team, just 18 points shy of the 1,000-point plateau.
“What a Senior year,” Wallace wrote on her Twitter account. “Not even being able to step foot on the court really hit home. This season was really tough for me to sit back and watch the game that I love being played without me.”
The long journey back started with reconstructive knee surgery followed by endless hours of physical therapy. She was buoyed by a desire to be healthy enough to play her freshman season at Kansas Wesleyan but it was never easy.
“Going through my injury was probably one of the most challenging and hardest times ever I’ve been through,” said Wallace, the Coyotes’ backup center and significant contributor. “I kind of had to play a mind game with it because at first, I was all down and out about it. My parents were like ‘what’s wrong with you?’
“You’ve got to look at the bright side like you’re going to be back in six months but for me six months was a long time from now.”
Wallace remained a part of the SM West team and it was mutually beneficial.
“I would go to every practice, every game and cheer them on,” Wallace said. “Even though I couldn’t play I felt like I could be their biggest support system. Doing that helped a little bit, I knew that I was helping others and they were helping me stay up and positive about it.
“Going to (physical therapy) really helped me get through that too. They were very supportive with everything.”
Wallace was poplar with college recruiters before the injury and received several offers including one from NCAA Division I Mississippi Valley State.
While some coaches backed off after the injury KWU coach Ryan Showman never wavered in his desire to make Wallace a Coyote.
“Our vision for Tylieea was ‘we still want you because you’re the future of our post position,'” he said. “We knew we had Kelcey (Hinz) for one more year and we thought we’d get her cleared in the fall. We’d play her on JV first semester and then be all varsity second semester. Back up Kelcey while getting really good reps and increasing her varsity role.”
Showman’s plan suited Wallace well. She averaged 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds while playing with the varsity second semester last season.
“My biggest motivation was just knowing that I could get back on the court and take advantage of every chance I get to make everything count,” she said. “I try to give the best I can because something so simple could happen again … God forbid it does.”
Wallace has remained true to her conviction this season. She averaged 11 points and seven rebounds through KWU’s first nine games and turned in the best performance of her college career last Saturday when she had 13 points and 17 rebounds in the Coyotes’ 64-53 victory in Mabee Arena. She followed on Wednesday with 14 points and nine rebounds in the Coyotes’ 72-55 win over Ottawa.
Showman says Wallace is becoming the player he envisioned.
“She’s athletic, she moves so well, she has great hands, she has a soft (shooting) touch,” he said. “But I feel like the thing that’s coming together for her is mentally things have slowed down. She’s able to process what her mind is telling her body to do and what speed and what level she needs to do it.
“I’ve seen enough at this level to know that it takes a mental toll on you even well after you’re healed and repaired. I think with every game, with every practice Tylieea just gets a little more confidence and the confidence that builds pushes those thoughts of her knee out of there.”
Wallace admits the injury occasionally crosses her mind.
“At times I do catch myself thinking about it when I’m playing but then I have to snap out of it real quick,” she said.
Adjusting to the speed of the college game has been the biggest challenge.
“You have to think quicker and everything’s more sped up,” Wallace said. “You don’t have a shot clock in high school and you can run offense for two minutes compared to getting just 30 seconds in college.”
Working with Hinz, an NAIA All-American and KWU’s career leader in rebounds and blocks, last season helped immensely.
“It made me better and obviously made her better too,” Wallace said. “Just getting the opportunity to do so really helped me come back this year and I feel like it made me gain a lot of confidence to know that I can compete at a high level again.”
Going against Caila Hill (SR/Rossville, Kan.), KWU’s starting post player this season, has been beneficial as well.
“It’s fun going against Caila because obviously she knows my weaknesses and I expose hers so it goes hand in hand. It’s good battle for us,” she said.
“They’re able to hammer on the weaknesses and make the strengths better,” Showman said. “You hear that term iron sharpens iron.”
Showman believes Wallace’s best days are just ahead.
“She’s back at a hundred percent, she’s back in the rotation and she’s doing everything,” he said. “She’s playing at an all-conference level right now and that’s really fun to see.”
“I feel like I haven’t reached my greatest potential,” she said. “I feel like the best is yet to come.”