Collins sisters battle as teammates for MU soccer

Despite Michelle being hard on Kendra in high school, the two still play together.
Freshman midfielder Kendra Collins clears the ball past Francis Marion defender Margaret Fanning during last Friday's game at Walton Stadium. Although she was initially reluctant to follow her sister, Collins was recruited by coach Bryan Blitz and eventually chose to attend MU.

When her sister went off to MU, Kendra Collins was finally free - free from her sister's constant critiquing on the soccer field, free from her sister's shadow and free to build her own name.

For two years, Michelle and Kendra Collins played on the same team at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill. And for two years, Kendra endured the criticisms of her big sister.

"Michelle was always all over her," said Joe Moreau, Neuqua Valley's soccer coach since Michelle's senior year. "Any kind of little mistake, (Michelle) was the mean big sister."

The two wouldn't speak after some games, their father Patrick said. After Michelle left for Columbia, Kendra wanted no part of Missouri.

"I remember people asking me, 'What will happen if Missouri starts recruiting you?'" Kendra said. "I was like, 'Yeah, right. I'd never go there. Played with my sister two years - more than enough.'"

Two years later, Kendra found herself back on the field with her sister. She chose Missouri.

Same last name, opposite personalities

Michelle, a junior, and Kendra, a freshman, are the first sisters to play soccer together at MU. This season, Michelle is second on the team in points, while Kendra has played the second-most minutes among freshmen.

Although they're both forwards with the last name Collins and play for MU, the sisters are far from identical, in terms of personality and playing style.

Off the field, Michelle is a lot like her mom, Carolyn, a children's librarian. She can talk forever and has an excess of energy.

"I'm really loud, borderline obnoxious," Michelle said. "Borderline."

But as gregarious as she is, Michelle, an Honors College student studying speech-language pathology, keeps a small circle of friends and values time to herself.

On the field, Michelle resembles Patrick, a retired Illinois state trooper who played football at the University of Wisconsin.

"Michelle's the Energizer Bunny - all over the field, leaves her heart and soul out there," Patrick said.

And she expects the same from her teammates.

"Michelle is just intense to everybody," Patrick said. "Michelle doesn't mean anything personal, but on that soccer field, she wants to win."

When Michelle was in sixth or seventh grade, she tried out for Team Chicago, an elite club team. She didn't make the cut. Michelle joined another club - but she didn't forget about Team Chicago.

"Anytime her team played Team Chicago, no matter what, Michelle would get the ball, pass it to herself, do whatever she had to do, but she would score against them," Carolyn said.

"She wanted to make a point to them that, 'You missed me. You messed up,'" Patrick said.

While Michelle is an introvert, Kendra is an extrovert, Carolyn said. She can put a rough game past her, unlike Michelle. She's more imaginative and creative than Michelle, and though she's not as outgoing at first, she likes to go out and be around people more often than her sister.

"I just take a while to get loud," said Kendra, who is undecided on a major. "I won't walk into a party and be off-the-wall like she will."

On the field, Kendra is a more organized player. She has better ball-handling skills than Michelle and the strength to score from long distances. Her sturdy frame allows her to power through defenders.

"Kendra runs into somebody, and they fall down," Patrick said. "For years, they called fouls on Kendra."

Carolyn agrees. "And they were trying to hurt Kendra because they would run into her and bounce," she said.

Patrick's analogy of Chicago Bears stars to Michelle and Kendra's styles is fitting for a former football player.

"I call Michelle Gale Sayers, and I call Kendra Walter Payton," said Patrick, who attended Chicago Vocational School, where Dick Butkus starred.

 Avoiding soccer's 'dark side'

Having both grown up on Chicago's South Side, Patrick and Carolyn were unfamiliar with soccer, which flourishes in the suburbs. They started Michelle and Kendra in ballet, which the sisters excelled in but quit for soccer.

But the Collinses didn't get involved in the politics that often dominate youth soccer. Before his daughters started playing, Patrick said he didn't know about the "dark side of soccer" - players hopping from club to club, coaches playing favorites and the commitment to travel.

Michelle and Kendra started in park district soccer. Even when they began playing traveling soccer, they switched clubs only once or twice.

Patrick, though, made sure Michelle and Kendra were being treated fairly and had somewhere to play. He even coached Michelle's third grade park district team, which was without a coach, despite having minimal soccer knowledge at the time.

In high school, no parents stood out more than the Collinses. Moreau said Patrick, who almost never missed a game, frequently brought cupcakes to games. Carolyn greeted the team bus with popsicles after Neuqua Valley won a state title in 2005, and she was never shy in showing her support.

"Oftentimes I don't hear parents, but you could hear Mrs. Collins just all of a sudden let out a big scream, 'Whoo!'" Moreau said.

Asked if they have a better understanding of soccer now that their daughters have played for a while, Carolyn doesn't hesitate.

"One of us does," she said.

Patrick now watches soccer on everything from the Big Ten Network, where he follows some of the 13 Division-I players from Neuqua Valley's 2005 state championship team, to soccer on the Spanish channel. He might not understand the language, he just likes the game.

Carolyn sticks to the players she knows best.

"I just watch Michelle and Kendra," she said. "That's it. Wherever they go."

And Carolyn literally follows her daughters on the field. Michelle and Kendra said she runs parallel to them in the stands when they're on breakaways.

"She still did that last year and took out one of (senior defender) Janelle Cordia's friends in the stands," Michelle added. "Pummeled him."

Making the sisterly bond stronger

It's surprising that Kendra wound up at MU after two years of independence on the field.

When Kendra visited Columbia during her junior year in high school, she met with MU soccer coach Bryan Blitz. She remembers introducing herself as "Michelle's sister."

Blitz stopped her.

"No, you're Kendra," she recalls him saying.

It was hard to blame her, though. Kendra had always been linked to her older sister.

"Even in the newspapers they wouldn't let me forget I was Michelle Collins' little sister," Kendra said.

But after Michelle left for MU, the sisters' relationship changed. Kendra started to miss Michelle. She called Michelle every day. The distance between the sisters brought them closer.

Suddenly, MU looked pretty good to Kendra. Blitz took nothing for granted and recruited Kendra as if she wasn't Michelle's sister.

Still, Kendra was unsure if she wanted to join Michelle.

"She was trying so hard not to come here," Michelle said.

But Kendra liked the campus, Blitz and, yes, the fact her sister was here. And she also didn't want to miss out on an opportunity to be with her sister for two more years. She knew she and her sister had changed. Things would work out, even if she had to bear two more years of Michelle's intensity on the field.

When Kendra came to MU this summer, she set the ground rules. Carolyn said Kendra doesn't depend on Michelle as much as Carolyn thought she would.

"I think Kendra just went down there and that was it, she just drew the line," Carolyn said.

That's not to say the sisters don't spend time together. Although they grew closer after Michelle finished high school, they might be even closer now.

"I think they've had a chance to actually re-form a bond they hadn't had for two years," Blitz said.

On the field, Michelle has learned how to communicate diplomatically and that Kendra can pick things up on her own. Kendra, in turn, has learned that Michelle means the best when she critiques her.

"I think it's been a very mature relationship," Blitz said. "Michelle knows that Kendra has to make her own way, make her own mistakes, learn the ropes on her own. It's just like any other teammate relationship on the field."

But Michelle will always demand more from her sister.

"You still are sometimes harder on me than most people," Kendra said, looking at Michelle.

"I know," Michelle responds. "Because I expect a little bit more out of you, and that's because you're my sister and I know what you're capable of."

So much for being free.

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