Myla Kline found herself wide open on the wing, sprung by a screen set by one sister, Kaylin, ready for a well-timed pass from her other sister, Kierra. As another 3-pointer from the leading scorer in Section VI girls basketball swished through the net, the Kline sisters beamed bright, synchronized smiles.
A softer smile spread across the face of Jason Kline, seated a couple of rows behind the bench. In a new position after 20 seasons on the sideline, he clapped a couple of times, then rustled the hair of his 12-year-old son, Clayton, content with his decision to hang up the coaching whistle and focus on being the basketball dad he could be.
Watching his three daughters play together at Holland “is a feeling I never really thought I would have,” Jason Kline said. “They’ve never played together in the past and they’ll never be able to do it in the future. That it’s happening now, it’s surreal. I’m just sitting back and enjoying the moment.”
Fatherhood was at the heart of Jason Kline’s decision last summer to resign from coaching St. Mary’s of Lancaster. He elevated the Lancers into Monsignor Martin championship contenders that won 74 games in four seasons, ahead of schedule in his nine-year plan to build a powerhouse program while coaching his daughters.
“But plans change when life changes,” he said.
Life changed for the Kline family in August 2017 when Kaylin was diagnosed with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, a genetic disease in which the heart muscle thickens and has difficulty pumping blood. The condition is one of the leading causes of death from sudden cardiac arrest in athletes under 35.
Already a varsity athlete at 13, Kaylin’s heart was broken again when doctors advised her to quit playing basketball. She found little solace in developing into a top junior golfer, or sitting on the bench at St. Mary’s, only entering the game for an occasional minute of mop-up duty.
“She was dying not playing,” Jason Kline said. “It was eating her up on the inside. …
“Kaylin wasn’t progressing the way we wanted her to, and I felt like part of that was because I had spent so much time and energy with the program and the team. The rigors of coaching at that level took too much time and energy away from being a dad. And that’s the most important job. She needed me at home and my family needed me at home.”
It took a few months, however, for Myla Kline to come around to the decision to come home to Holland for her senior season. She was a fourth-team All-Western New York selection after averaging 11.7 points in her junior season and part of one of the area’s top backcourts alongside first-team All-WNY point guard Shay Czieski.
“We talked about if for a long time and it was a tough choice,” Jason Kline said. “St. Mary’s is a great program that we were proud to be a part of. And I’m proud of Myla for the decision she made for her family.”
Jason Kline submitted his resignation in early August and enrolled Kaylin, now a sophomore, and Myla at Holland, the only Section VI school for which she would be eligible to transfer and play as a senior. Kierra also returned to Holland for eighth grade after starting middle school in the Pioneer district, where her mother teaches.
A few weeks later, the Kline family received life-changing news during Kaylin’s checkup at the Cleveland Clinic, almost two years to the day her hoop dreams had been crushed.
“Through prayers and the grace of God, her heart has remolded and reshaped itself,” Jason said doctors told the Klines. “They said why don’t you try playing basketball again.”
“I’m still in shock,” Kaylin said after helping Holland improve to 6-0 in a 94-24 trouncing at JFK on Friday night. “I can’t believe that I’m allowed to play again.”
“That is something that we never expected to happen,” Myla said. “For all of us to play together, we are blessed for every second of it.”
Kierra played for Pioneer varsity as a seventh-grader, but the Klines weren’t expecting her to join Myla and Kaylin in the Holland starting lineup so soon. She has emerged as a bonafide varsity athlete this year, earning sixth-team all-state honors in girls soccer before taking over at point guard for the Lady Dutchmen.
“It’s amazing what she’s doing as an eighth-grader,” Kaylin said. “She’s better than most senior point guards.”
Kierra’s playmaking has paired well with a rising star in Holland’s frontcourt, Claire Pikett. The lithe 6-foot forward was an ECIC IV all-star as a freshman. Now in her third varsity season, Pikett “is really blossoming into one of the better players in Western New York, if not the state,” coach Samuel Arnold said.
The talent infusion has caused a scoring explosion. Pushing the tempo and pumping up shots, Holland averaged more than 84 points in its first six wins.
Myla Kline is scoring 32.8 points per game and took over the sectional lead from Franklinville sharpshooter Dani Haskell (32 ppg) after dropping 40 at JFK. She set a season-high for Western New York with 49 points against Cleve-Hill last month and is shooting 48% from 3-point distance on 15 attempts per game.
“Myla is fitting in well in a different role on this team as a leader,” Jason Kline said. “At St. Mary’s, her role was to play D and shoot the ball. Now she is being to do a lot more things that is good for her overall development.”
Pikett has expanded her all-around game, averaging 16.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 5.5 steals and 2.7 blocks. She has found chemistry with the Klines, having been a former AAU teammate and kindergarten classmate of Kaylin’s.
“We’ve been playing together since we were in second grade,” Kaylin said. “So we’ve really bonded together well.”
Kierra (8.0 ppg, 8.8 apg, 5.5 spg) is a “consummate floor general,” at her young age, Arnold said.
“She reminds me of Bobby Hurley at Duke,” he said. “She doesn’t take any crap from anybody, no matter how old they are. She is going to give it everything she’s got.”
Kaylin (9.7 ppg) “does the hard dirty work that nobody sees,” Myla said. “Kierra sets everybody up. I like to shoot a lot. And Kaylin, she’s either down on the ground, or someone else is.”
“Her sisters and our team feed off her positive energy,” Arnold said. “That’s why she is one of our team captains even though she is only a sophomore. Because of her life experiences, it teaches our team to keep striving and getting after it.”
Having learned to play golf after being sidelined from basketball, Kaylin competed for the East Aurora/Holland combined team and qualified for the Section VI girls tournament.
But she has found her smile being able to play her favorite sport again, alongside her “favorite teammates,” as she called her two sisters.
“The emotional healing of being out on the floor again is really helping her,” Jason said. “It’s helping all of us.”
“It’s really good family time we are having before I go off to college next year,” said Myla, who has given a verbal commitment to Niagara County Community College. “We’ve never played on the same team before and we won’t play together again. It’s a special opportunity.”