Sophomore Peyton Gollhofer's dad wasn't always around when she was growing up.

Retired Lt. Col. Robert Gollhofer served in the Marines for 15 years, which meant spending months at a time away from Peyton and her younger brother, Robert Kyle. Sometimes it was a tour in the Middle East, other times it was an assignment at a domestic base that was still thousands of miles from their hometown of Cartersville, Georgia.

Robert retired when Peyton was 7, but those early years made a lasting impact.

“It makes me more independent because my mom always told us to be very strong and, even though Dad’s not here, you still have to get things done,” Peyton said. “I’m that way in tennis too. I like singles because I like doing it alone and relying on myself and not having to worry about somebody else doing it for me, so I think that’s where it translates from life into tennis.”

On the court, Peyton's vocal playing style is difficult to miss at Ball State women's tennis matches. In the Cardinals' home opener against Dayton, a player on the next court complained about her screams of "Let's go!" and "Hit the ball!" and in Saturday's match against Evansville, an umpire told her to calm down.

“Sometimes my attitude gets the best of me,” Peyton said. “I get too emotional and too into it and I remember [Robert] saying that you can’t be overcome with your emotions so much that it cripples you. That’s one thing that I always remember when I’m playing on the court.”

But those outbursts of emotion come from a lesson Robert learned in the Armed Forces.

“I had a boss, he’s the Secretary of Defense now," Robert said, referencing recently confirmed Donald Trump-appointee James Mattis. "He said, ‘You live life with an intensity. If you’re not, you might as well not do it.’”

MILITARY ROOTS

In the Marines, Robert was an infantry officer and often dealt with recruits who were fresh out of boot camp. 

“Right out of high school, and their life experience, of course, is very narrow at that point — especially for the job they volunteered to do," Robert said. "And a lot of it is like being a parent, it’s exactly what it is. They’re your kids and they’re your responsibility.”

It's not exactly the same as raising a child, of course, but Robert said he focused on making sure their priorities were in order — work comes before play.

Peyton simultaneously smiled and cringed because of how familiar it sounded.

“When you’re young, that’s the time really to hone your skills," Robert said. "Hone that work ethic, to begin to appreciate the hard work and what you have to do to be successful and play at a level that other people don’t want to play at to be good at.”

Robert's philosophy caused him to butt heads with Peyton, especially on the court. Tennis and school came first, so she couldn't always hang out with her friends when she wanted to and sometimes they'd be at the courts for three hours.

At Peyton's matches, Robert made it clear where Peyton's intensity came from. When Peyton made a mistake, he'd slam his hat down on the floor and rub his head in frustration so much that Peyton had to tell him to stay away from matches for a whole year, just so she wouldn’t get so nervous.

“It was so bad because one time, the person that actually owned the courts, would come over and be like, ‘OK you guys, settle down,’" Peyton said. "He’d get so worked up and just wants me to do well. So, yeah, he had to stop coaching me for a little bit after that. But it was fun, I miss it."

Peyton asking her dad to stay away was a far cry from her younger days.

'DADDY'S HOME'

When her dad was on assignment, Peyton helped look out for her little brother, Robert Kyle.

One day, when Peyton was 6, they were surprised to see Robert's truck on the driveway. Peyton said Robert Kyle shrieked with excitement because they hadn't seen their dad in weeks. He started running around the house looking for Robert, screaming at the top of his little 3-year-old lungs.

“Daddy’s home, Daddy's home!"

Robert Kyle ran around the house looking for Robert, but Peyton was old enough to understand what was really happening.

It was just a family friend returning Robert’s borrowed truck.

Instead of crying, Peyton sucked it up. She knew it would be tough enough on Robert Kyle without her breaking down too. 

“I didn’t want to be upset and then him to see that I was upset about it too and then him get more worked up because my brother feels more than I do,” Peyton said. “He’s very sensitive. He’s very emotional. He kind of feeds off of other people’s emotions. It was hard because I know like it was rough on me, but seeing him get so upset, I mean, I don’t like seeing my brother upset at all.”

Now that he's retired, Robert tries to make up for lost time coaching Robert Kyle's wrestling team in Cartersville. It's an eight-hour drive from there to Muncie, though, so he's only been able to watch Peyton play when they're on the road in places like North Carolina or Tennessee.

Peyton says he's still with her.

“He’s always there when I think about if I’m not giving 100-percent effort,” Peyton said. “I know how disappointed he would be, and his lectures. He would just look at me and be very stern.”

When they can get together, Peyton and Robert enjoy watching tennis, though Robert's lectures on strategy and technique have turned into a back-and-forth debates now that Peyton plays for Ball State.

“It’s funny now because I know a lot more now than I did when I was younger, when he tried to coach me," Peyton said. "So, he’ll say something and then I’ll come back with a different strategy and sometimes he won’t know what to and he’ll be like ‘Oh.’"

And when they aren't together, Peyton can do a pretty good job taking care of herself.

She's had practice.