Boyd takes control, helps propel VU soccer to 13-game win streak

Friday, October 12, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 41
By Rhiannon Potkey

Vanderbilt junior Kaylann Boyd has overcome learning disabilities, concussions and questioning her own commitment to the sport in helping Vanderbilt to a 13-1, 6-0 record.

-- Photograph Courtesy Of Vanderbilt Athletics

Kaylann Boyd knew she couldn’t hold others accountable if she wasn’t accountable for her own actions. She knew she couldn’t expect to bring out the best in her teammates if she wasn’t working to bring out the best in herself.

Boyd made an early impact for the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team, playing in all 19 games as a freshman in 2016 and scoring the game-winning goal against rival Tennessee in double overtime.

But Boyd’s sophomore year provided some setbacks.

The Atlanta native suffered a concussion during preseason training and appeared in only 12 games.

She began to have doubts about her role on the team, and she struggled to push herself through training.

“For me, personally, it was just finding that love for the game again. I think I lost it my sophomore year,” Boyd says. “It was tough having concussions and trying to get back in shape. I think I just lost my love for the game and the passion I always had.”

Boyd reignited her inner fire this season to help fuel a historical run.

Vanderbilt (13-1, 6-0) has won a program-record 13 consecutive games and sits atop the SEC standings. The No. 12 Commodores host No. 9 South Carolina (11-2, 5-1) on Friday night at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex.

Boyd, a junior forward, has scored a career-high seven goals this season and is averaging 54 minutes on the field.

“Kaylann is really a poster child for what can happen when you push yourself to work hard. She wasn’t performing to the expectation she was capable of and didn’t want it bad enough,” explains Darren Ambrose, Vanderbilt head coach.

“She had to fail to figure out what she really wanted, and decided she was tired of just getting by. She started taking care of the small details, and is a different player now. She is a massive part of who we are as a team.”

Overcoming challenges is nothing new for Boyd.

She was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD at age 6 and began attending Atlanta Speech School, which serves students with speech, hearing or learning disabilities.

“They taught me how to cope with the learning disability with a different way of learning,” Boyd recalls. “It was a different way for me to make sure that the material I was learning was sticking and I could understand it. I was really fortunate to be able to get that help.”

Despite the dyslexia, Boyd has been able to manage her studies at Vanderbilt. She still takes ADHD medication to help her focus in class and get her work completed at home.

She has always been open about her learning disabilities. They inspired her to major in psychology at Vanderbilt with the goal of becoming an educational diagnostician to help children with similar issues.

Kaylann Boyd celebrates a goal she scored during Vanderbilt’s 2-0 win against Memphis earlier this season.

-- Photograph Courtesy Of Vanderbilt Athletics

“It doesn’t define who I am, but it is definitely a part of me. It’s been a struggle, but I am willing to talk about it whenever and to whoever may want to talk about it,” Boyd says. “I want to bring hope to kids and bring hope to people. It makes me a little emotional at times and brings back bad memories and brings back great memories. But it’s also bringing hope to other people, and that is what I want.”

Boyd’s evolution on the soccer field may serve a similar purpose.

Ambrose has watched many players struggle with the transition to college at some point early in their careers. Society’s thirst for instant success without leeway for setbacks places additional pressure on the maturation process.

“It’s hard for some kids to understand delayed gratification and the ability to work at something over a long period of time in order to become good at it later. It’s instant everything today,” Ambrose points out.

“It’s a cultural problem in my opinion. Kids need to take the time to work at something and recognize somebody may just be better at something right now. But in a year or two, that may not be the case if they have the patience to keep working.”

Knowing Vanderbilt needed to replace veteran leaders this season, Boyd decided to make some changes. She didn’t want to have regrets about not trying to reach her full potential.

“I had to fix my work ethic. It was not as consistent as it should have been. I had to be honest with myself,” Boyd acknowledges.

“I knew I needed to be consistently working my tail off because that is what the team was going to be expecting.”

Boyd’s wake-up call sounded more like a beep.

The infamous beep test – running from one line to another in a timed sequence – gives Boyd nightmares. She dreads the thought of even trying to complete it.

“I hate it, but I just had to overcome being out of shape and become determined to pass it. I had to become determined to be the leader I knew I could be on and off the field,” Boyd says. “I just kept telling myself I was going to be OK, and I had to keep moving forward no matter what. It didn’t matter if it was inch by inch or centimeter by centimeter, I just needed to be getting better every day.”

Seeing players acknowledge their shortcomings and work through the process of self-discovery is one of the most rewarding parts of coaching for Ambrose.

“The players begin to understand the role they might play on a team and see that picture is bigger than just what they do,” he says. “Watching the evolution can be painful and sad at times, but if the kids can get it figured out, it’s like a light bulb moment for a teacher. It’s really cool to watch.”

Vanderbilt reached the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in more than a decade and recorded their first NCAA win since 1998.

The Commodores added an infusion of young talent this season that has made immediate contributions and meshed well with the returning players.

Having gone through her struggles last season, Boyd is grateful for the role she’s playing this season.

Her first priority is helping Vanderbilt win, but her purpose will always be bigger than soccer.

“I want to be that role model for kids that have dyslexia and ADHD, and be able to tell parents, ‘Your kid is not dumb in any way. They are just different. They are going to make it,’” Boyd says. “I was going through exactly what they are going through when I was growing up. I know how it feels to feel dumb and not be able to read or write. But look at me now. I am going to graduate from Vanderbilt, so your child is going to be perfectly fine. They are going to make it.”