The Tangerine’s Athlete of the Year: Ellen Collie of the women’s tennis team


Photo from Alexandria Leland.

Nick McAdam and Matthew Breault

Out of the near 700 student-athletes at Utica College, The Tangerine has selected Ellen Collie as the Athlete of the Year for the 2020-21 academic year. 

As a first-year player and student, Collie finished with an undefeated record of 8-0 in singles play with the women’s tennis team this past season. In collaboration with her doubles partner, Ellen Lyga, the duo posted a doubles record of 6-2, while having each of the team’s wins come by five games or better. The efforts from Collie helped propel women’s tennis to its best overall record since 2006, helping the team finish 5-3 while also qualifying for postseason play for the first time since that season. This season also marked the first time in Utica College women’s tennis history where the team advanced to the semifinals of the Empire 8 Tournament

Collie’s dominance in singles play proved to be a valuable asset to the overall success the team saw this season. From March 6 to April 1, she posted four shutout victories against opponents from St. John Fisher, Hartwick College and Russell Sage College. All of her victories aside from three matches were won by three games or more.
She also earned a first-team honor for singles and doubles play, as well as being selected as Utica College’s representative on the Empire 8 Sportswoman of the Year team for women’s tennis. Collie was also selected as the Empire 8 Player of the Week during the week of March 15, marking the first time since 2016 where a member of the women’s tennis team was selected for this award.

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Photo from Alexandria Leland.

Beyond the stats and accolades, Collie’s roots in tennis run deep into her childhood. Much of her family plays tennis with her brother-in-law playing the sport at a professional level. Collie herself first picked up a racquet at the age of four, playing the sport for around 15 years.

“There was a point in time when I actually stopped playing tennis because I didn’t think it would be my thing,” she said. “That quickly changed. I play tennis frequently with my family and friends back home. My sister plays for a club team and my brother-in-law plays professionally down in Florida. Both of them have helped me stay in the game for as long as I have.”

Collie is a native of Harbor Springs, Michigan, a little town just at the northern tip of the state almost within a viewing distance of Canada. It’s a 10-hour drive from her hometown to Utica College. In high school, Collie proved to be just as valuable a player as she’s been for the Pioneers, with three state championship appearances with her team and multiple positive seasons in both singles and doubles play.

When it came time to pick colleges, Collie initially was turned off by the tennis team’s performances within the past few seasons. While Collie was attending Harbor Springs High School, the Pioneers posted a combined record of 10-38 between 2016-2019. In seasons prior to the pandemic, the team failed to achieve a winning record in well over 15 years. 

Collie was looking at a pair of other schools specifically in warmer-weather climates. Yet, it was the weather that drew her attention away from the other schools and back toward Utica College, but this came with some resistance from the team at first.

“I had to reach out to the coach of the team after turning in my recruitment application,” she said. “Utica didn’t respond to me at first while a bunch of other schools wanted me to come hit with their teams. I had to call Utica and essentially prove myself to be worthy of the program, which I felt was odd at the time, but it all worked out in the end after indicating what my records were in high school.”

Collie seemed to make the right choice attending Utica College, specifically with her own approach toward the game and the general culture of the team. She described the team as being very relaxed: one of which players can practice on their own time and simply just be present for all of the games. She preferred this approach to the game this season. After high school, Collie said she lost her competitive mentality toward the game, and simply wanted to keep playing tennis in college.

“This season was very relaxed, which only started to intensify more when we realized we were closer to making the postseason and possibly going further in the tournament,” she said. “A lot of the team was disconnected at the start of the season. We didn’t really speak to each other much away from the court. A lot of players didn’t show up to practice much, which was allowed. This all changed as time went on. I’m glad to say that I’ve actually made a lot of connections with all of the players on the team.”

Collie doesn’t take much stock in the mental preparation for each game either. No superstitions, but sometimes a pregame meal of pasta to give her the energy she needs to compete. Although she does get butterflies in her stomach before the match, she indicated that she just went out and played to get the anxious feelings out. With each hit, it became clear to Collie that she was involved in the game and had to put up results for her team. It became more of a focus on hitting the ball, and less of a worry of what was happening around her.

Collie also gave much credit to Lyga, her doubles partner, for her success this season. The duo accounted for a total of 21 wins on the season, which was 46% of the Pioneers’ individual and collective victories. Lyga finished with an individual record of 7-1.

Collie was grateful to have a strong doubles partner and indicated the bond between the two, both on and off the court, for the success they achieved.

“Doubles requires two very strong performers to go a long way and to win games,” she said. “Having her by my side in each game was very beneficial and I’m very grateful and optimistic for the future of our play.”

Off the court, Collie majors in business management but isn’t sure if that’s what she wants to commit to in the long term. As a first-year student, she still has time on her side to make her decision.

Photo from Alexandria Leland.

And, looking down the road, Collie remained optimistic that the tennis team can replicate the positive results from this season. With young promising players such as her, Lyga and Morgan Willis, the core of the team is in place. From there, Collie believes that with the same approach to the game as this season and more communication between the players that the team can become something special on campus.

“At the start of the season, we didn’t even have a full team to compete,” Collie said. “We’ve come very far in such a short time. I’m thankful that the team stayed safe and healthy this season with the coronavirus at hand. I’m very excited to see what the future holds for this program.”