Davidson Bonds Inspires Teammates’ Next Steps
It was mid-March, college basketball’s most significant month, and Kyla Roland was expecting some potentially life-changing news off the court.
She was in Dr. Debbie Thurtle-Schmidt’s genomics class, and — with her professor’s blessing — Roland was keeping one eye on her laptop, which would soon reveal her selection as a Watson Fellow.
The extensive and exclusive process concluded with the desired result, but before Roland could really begin to grasp her new reality, her phone began buzzing. As it turns out, her teammates had been monitoring and refreshing the Watson Fellowship website, too. They wanted to know just as badly as she did.
“Everyone went crazy,” says Roland. “I think that’s our reaction to everything.”
For Roland, it was another great day to be a Wildcat, but it was also a reminder that the friendships and bonds shared between genuinely invested teammates extend beyond the final horn of a game or even a career.
After four years together, Roland and teammates Justine Lyon and Kianna Speight are tight. They graduated in May, having helped with a program’s resurgence. This month, they began writing their next chapters in ways only they could.
“All three of them just poured everything they had into the Davidson experience,” says head coach Gayle Fulks. “It’s not surprising what they’re getting out. They’re all very different, but all the same.”
The trio’s individual and collective success, on and off the court, reflects the Davidson athletics mission, and they continually marvel at one another’s achievements and breakthroughs.
For Lyon, getting accepted into graduate school at UNC Charlotte set off a chain reaction when it was announced during a team breakfast at the Atlantic 10 Tournament. She was swarmed by her teammates. Speight’s decision to attend Campbell for graduate school — and play one final season on the hardwood — filled her inbox this summer.
“Everybody’s there for you and wants for you what you want, so when you get it, it’s like everybody gets it,” says Speight. “Having that support along the way is great.”
Lyon, a Durham native, wants to one day manage a hospital. She has long been interested in quality medical care, but along the way found less interest in the actual science behind it. The administration side of it intrigued her, though.
“It’s another way of affecting the system,” she says. “I’ve always had a passion for people and helping them.”
Lyon earned her degree in public health, through the center of interdisciplinary studies. At Charlotte, she’s pursuing an advanced degree in health administration.
“Going into the real world is scary in a sense, but I definitely think Davidson prepared me for it,” she says.
Fulks believes Lyon’s unselfishness, which showed in basketball, will serve her well going forward as well. Lyon came off the bench last season to lead Davidson in scoring with 13.1 points per game, and she was named the Atlantic 10 Sixth Woman of the Year.
Speight’s not quite done with basketball. There’s more to play.
The Arkansas native had a number of options as graduation came and went, ranging from overseas basketball to nursing school and decided to pursue advanced degrees unavailable at Davidson. She’ll attend graduate school at Campbell, while also completing her eligibility on the hardwood.
“The opportunity is very unique,” she says.
Speight graduated with a degree in psychology and will now pursue master’s degrees in public health and business administration. Having missing most of the 2016-17 season with an ACL tear, she’ll look to finish her playing career on her own terms after averaging 10 points per game and playing at the top of her game last season.
“I knew there was more I could do on the court,” she says.
Speight has already acclimated to life at Campbell and in her new role as a team’s veteran rookie. She’s caught herself saying, ‘Go Cats!’ a few times, but she’s energized about the opportunity to wear orange and play for the Camels.
“I’ll be down there to see her play,” says Lyon. “I’m excited to see her in another element and see how she thrives in it. I think it’ll be a good thing for her.”
As a Watson Fellow, Roland is spending the next year overseas (updates at kylaroland.com).
She is among 40 college graduates selected — also including Davidson soccer player Natalie Connell — from 18 states and six countries to conduct independent research projects outside the U.S. It’s the same fellowship that director of athletics Chris Clunie participated in after his 2006 Davidson graduation.
“To get this opportunity to go abroad and get a different sort of education, it’s a really great opportunity I’m excited about and grateful for,” says Roland.
A biology major from Michigan, she will travel to Jordan, Trinidad and Norway to study gender disparities among science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals. It’s serious business for the post player who long ago endeared herself to teammates with her sense of humor.
“The more I talk to people in the countries I’ll be working in, the more excited I am to get to do it,” she says.
Roland, Lyon and Speight came to Davidson on the same recruiting visit as high school prospects. They spent much of the next four years together, through ups and downs, and left having grown in ways they didn’t think possible.
Now, they’re on to pursue greatness away from campus and their red and black uniforms, but they’re still drawing inspiration from each other. They have an ongoing group message that builds text by text, often at an accelerated rate, and reaffirms what they gained alongside their degrees and box scores.
Despite the distance in miles and their different goals and paths, they’re still on the same team. They always will be.
“I feel like we are a very close group,” says Speight. “We’re all very different people, but that’s what made us close friends. We definitely have a good bond that will last well past our Davidson years.”