EDWARDSVILLE — Now in his fourth year with the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville men's tennis program, Dylan Reed is the only senior on the Cougars' roster and has taken the reins as team leader both on and off the court.
A native of Austin, Texas, Reed picked up tennis as a high school freshman. He said starting at an older age than most young tennis players helped grow his passion for the sport and allowed him to avoid losing interest.
"My mom played tennis for Eastern Kentucky, and she suggested it during my freshman year," Reed said. "I'm actually glad I started later. Tennis is such a mental sport so it's easy for a lot of kids who are playing competitively when they're only 9 or 10 to get drained both mentally and physically. By the time they get to college, they're already sick of it."
After playing both for his high school and at a tennis academy close to home, Reed began to develop his skills to a point where he wanted to take his game to the next level.
He arrived at SIUE in the fall of 2009 and said the difference in the tennis program from where it was then to where it is now is tenfold. Reed emphasized the hiring of Jason Coomer as head coach as a big turning point for the program.
"The coaching change was a huge deal going into my freshman year," Reed said. "You see teams where the coach doesn't get along with the players, but coach Coomer knows everyone. He talks to everyone, and that makes it easy to adjust for all of us."
Things were going well for Reed as a sophomore, who was confident in his play and was consistently playing high in the lineup. But that came to a halt when he tore his ACL during the team's second day of outdoor practice.
"It was tough," he said. "I twisted my knee a little bit and I knew right away it was bad. It was the most pain I've felt in my life. "
Reed had surgery on his knee and entered a rehabilitation program that took 10 months to complete. While he had his doubts about whether or not he would be able to play tennis again, Reed says the lengthened rehab allowed him to see encouraging improvements every day.
"I had a good surgeon and a good physical therapist, which got me on the right track," he said. "I was constantly able to jump a little higher and move a little faster, which was always encouraging."
Getting back on the court, Reed said the pain was mostly gone but mental doubts lingered about what his rebuilt ACL could handle in competition.
"It was scary thinking that if you take one misstep that you might have to do 10 months of rehab all over again," Reed stated. "Once I was able to get past that stage and start moving and cutting at full speed, it made it a lot better."
Coomer said that Reed wouldn't have been able to get back on the court without the positive attitude that he carries to this day.
"Dylan's persistence and attitude about getting back on the court carried him through those 10 months," Coomer said. "No one was happier than I was to see him get over those obstacles and compete at the level he's at today.
The senior has turned a perceived negative into a positive, taking the role of team leader instead of dwelling on an injury that slowed his collegiate career.
"You always want to be out there competing in matches, but I've adopted the leadership role which is just as important as being out there playing," Reed says. "To keep the team together and make sure everyone is playing well; that's very important."
"We're extremely fortunate to have Dylan on the team because he brings a lot of things to the table that you can't teach," Coomer added. "His willingness and desire to be a team leader should only be an example for our younger players to follow and achieve."
Reed said this year's team gets along well both on and off the court, which only makes for players who are more confident and more comfortable around each other.
"We have a good mix of kids, and we can all joke around and get along no matter where we are," Reed said. "Some teams might make you feel like when you lose your match, you brought the team down. But with us, it doesn't matter if one person plays poorly or if everyone plays poorly, it's a team effort and we're all in it together."
Reed, who is in his last year with the tennis team but plans to graduate in 2014 and aims to work towards a career in sports marketing and management. He would ideally like to stay in the St. Louis area and get a job with a professional sports franchise.
But for now, he's focused on this season and seeing his team reach its full potential in its first year as a member of the Ohio Valley Conference.
"There might be some teams out there who are more talented than us, but nobody is going to work harder than we are," Reed added. "You can see that in our team more and more every day. Everyone is improving both in practice and in matches, and I don't think it's going to stop anytime soon."