Living Life with Grace and Grit
On the soccer field, Kyra Wilkens is content to let her play do the talking.
The midfielder for the Northland Preparatory Academy (NPA) girls soccer team brings confidence and selfless grit to both practices and games. Though not a “yeller,” the 18-year-old senior leads in her own way - through committed effort, consistent excellence, and a caring mentorship that now has younger teammates looking to her as a role model.
There's a reason Kyra was named team captain her senior year and is number one on her team for assists. She gladly trades personal glory for team cohesion.
She’s a confident leader who focuses on building people up. She picks her spots to say and do the right thing at the right time. She doesn’t believe in yelling and broadcasting others’ mistakes. She prefers to take players under her wing to ensure they feel valued and heard.
Kyra is naturally introspective and empathetic. She strove to help develop a team culture that was supportive and inclusive.
Kyra started playing club soccer at the age of six. But, her journey began by watching her older brother play. Despite trying other sports, soccer was the one that resonated with her. "Soccer was the only one that stuck," she recalls.
Beyond the field, Wilkens expresses her creativity through painting. She cherishes her moments of tranquility, often found in nature or in the simple act of sleeping. Her uniqueness is further accentuated by a personal detail: "Something unique about me is that I have a tattoo."
"The thing about Kyra is, she's just straight-up cool," said her dad, Chris Wilkens.
"When I taught her how to drive a manual transmission, she insisted we take the Jeep doors and roof off before we started practicing. Kyra is a compassionate and sensitive young woman who feels her own feelings deeply; she's also incredibly sensitive to the feelings of others, intuitive about her environment, has a strong imagination and a deep inner life."
When asked to describe his second-born child, Chris had this to say: "She's hilarious, adventurous and creative with a contagious zest for life and a heart of gold."
While Kyra wasn’t new to the sport of soccer, her freshman year at NPA was an immersion.
"Kyra was thrust into a starting position on the varsity squad due to an injury on the team," her mom, Kym Wilkens, said. "Kyra played a position she had never played before. The team was the three-time defending state champions. But she dove right in, learned the position, and ultimately helped the team to a fourth state title.”
This immersion gave her a front-row seat to watch how the older girls lead. She silently started to form her own leadership style based on what she liked. Equally important, she identified what she didn't like.
Over the course of an up-and-down season beset by adversity, Coach Michel Blair watched with pride.
Kyra and her teammates stepped up, Blair said. He always knew Kyra and her teammates could be mentors. He knew they could become a source of guidance that younger teammates actively sought out.
"This year, the seniors realized how to be the moms, the leaders, the bigger sisters on the field," Blair said. "I think in the last 2 to 3 weeks of the season, they finally realized what we had been saying all along. ‘You guys are it. You're the seniors. You have to be the leaders.’"
“Kyra is one of the ones who has a ton to offer because she’s super talented. She’s smart. She’s athletic. And she’s effective in so many ways,” Blair said.
Rather than leading through fiery speeches, Kyra guided through her actions.
Blair noted her selfless acts. She's "looking out for others." She also "picks her spots" to offer encouragement or advice at just the right moments.
"I continually saw her look out for others," Blair said. He recited multiple instances where Kyra put her teammates first. "She learned how to pick her teammates up."
That mature leadership helped rally NPA down the stretch. Kyra's energetic style of play also contributed.
The NPA girls soccer team won their second straight fall season girls soccer state title in which Kyra played for all 80 minutes. This was their sixth in the past seven seasons. They beat Show Low 2-1 on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, at Westwood High School in Mesa.
“I like the reward you get from having a good game and feeling proud of how you played,” Kyra said.
Though Kyra calls it "a very happy" ending to her high school career, Blair puts it even more bluntly:
"That's why we won - and Kyra was a big part of that where she finally realized, ‘I’ve got to be a leader. I’ve got to be the one they're looking towards,’ and I was really proud of her for that.”
Kyra naturally shies from the spotlight. However, make no mistake - she leaves an NPA soccer legacy that goes far beyond the stats and accolades. She consistently excelled and offered empathetic guidance. She showed younger teammates just what leadership should look like.
“She’s always had a quiet leadership, but this year, her teammates really looked to her," Blair said.
Kyra heads off to college facing a wide-open future, full of possibilities on and off the field.
Coach Blair hopes Kyra continues embracing all facets of her leadership abilities. Blair hopes this happens wherever that next chapter takes her.
“I hope she finds a school, a career, or an organization where she can make an impact,” Blair said. “She has so much to offer.”
During her career in the sport, Kyra was named Sophomore Player of the Year. Then, she was named Junior Defensive Player of the Year and Senior Player of the Year. She was on the AIA First Team Conference and the All-Region Team. She was one of the Senior Team Captains and has played every position except goalie.
After graduation, Kyra plans to study conservation biology or marine science. She has been accepted and awarded merit scholarships at six schools. However, she is waiting to hear from five California schools. With her options wide open, she's leaning toward Oregon State or the University of Oregon.
"Looking back at this season," Kyra said, "I hope I never forget the love everyone had for each other and the bonds that were made. It’s hard to find a team where everyone wants everyone else to succeed, but this team has done exactly that. Although this year had a lot of curve balls, the players stepped up and worked for each other. The win this year meant a lot because almost everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. The players still kept their heads up and managed to pull off a victory. I am very happy with the way that this season and my soccer career ended.”
In the words of Kyra Wilkens:
- "Soccer was the only [sport] that stuck."
- "I like the reward you get from having a good game and feeling proud of how you played."
- "Something unique about me is that I have a tattoo."
- "I hope I never forget the love everyone had for each other and the bonds that were made this season."
- “The win this year meant a lot because almost everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. The players still kept their heads up and managed to pull off a victory. “
- “To someone starting in soccer… just be confident and have fun no matter who is yelling at you.”
In the words of Coach Michael Blair:
- "Kyra is a quiet leader."
- "She’s super talented. She’s smart. She’s athletic."
- "She learned how to pick her spots and pick her teammates up."
- "I hope she finds a school, a career or an organization where she can make an impact."
- "You guys are it. You're the seniors. You have to be the leaders."
- "That's why we won - and Kyra was a big part of that where she finally realized, ‘I’ve got to be a leader. I’ve got to be the one they're looking towards,’ and I was really proud of her for that.”