Kiana Graham ’20 Wins Regionals, Looks Beyond

Kiana Graham 20 poses with head tennis coach Travis Dalrymple following her regionals win. Photo credit to Westwood Tennis

Kiana Graham ’20 poses with head tennis coach Travis Dalrymple following her regionals win. Photo credit to Westwood Tennis

Freshman tennis player Kiana Graham doesn’t break under pressure. With parents donning Olympic and World Championship track medals and siblings successfully competing collegiately, the strain has existed since Graham started playing her own sport. It’s nothing new to her. And even as she faced her opponent in the final match of the Region 2-6A Girls’ Singles Championship in her first year playing high school tennis, nothing could stop her from claiming that title.

Following her successful individual season and district win, Graham entered the regional tournament seeded as the top singles player. She then went on to successfully defeat three other opponents before advancing to the final.

“I was really nervous, that’s for sure,” Graham said. “This was my first year playing high school tennis, and it’s kind of like a different scene than when you’re playing by yourself like individually.”

Her six-foot tall opponent in the last match proved to be a challenge with her powerful strokes, but Graham stuck to her game plan to eventually emerge victorious. Her consistent outlook allowed her to dominate the match 6-0, 6-2, despite allowing her opponent to make a small comeback.

“I was really nervous but it was a good nervous, like excited, [so] when I finished I was really relieved,” Graham said. “My mentality was to start off strong and just to get a good start and not fall behind. I was trying to stay aggressive because I knew that if she was that big, she was probably going to hit the ball pretty hard.”

The close knit character of the team shined through during the final, as all the Warriors gathered around the center court to cheer Graham on.

“Everybody was just sitting there watching. We’re really supportive of each, when we’re watching each other’s matches, make sure that we’re cheering, staying positive, keeping that person up,” Graham said.

Graham’s first place finish makes her the only Warrior to officially advance to the state tournament, which will be held at College Station on May 18 and 19. Both Graham and head tennis coach Travis Dalrymple have high hopes for the competition, as well as the rest of her years with the Westwood team.

“I expect her to go out and rip some balls,” Coach Dalrymple said. “She has the talent and the head to win it.”

While her accomplishments are nothing short of national titles, they only serve to reflect Graham’s time and dedication to the sport. She began playing tennis at age 10, where she fell in love with the individuality of the play.

“I like that I can rely on myself to do as good as I want to instead of relying on somebody else,” Graham said.

The training regime she endures everyday features practice for two to three hours in addition to workouts off the court. Graham strives to balance her practices with both the Westwood team, where playing as a team is heavily emphasized, and another program, where coaches focus on the more technical side of the sport.

With the intensity and frequency of such practices, Graham’s career has also allowed her to develop critical life skills such as time management and organization.

Kiana Graham ’20 tracks the ball as her opponent returns her shot. Photo credit to Westwood Tennis.

“I have to do school whenever I can, like on the ride to school, on the ride home, at lunch, to try to balance everything out,” Graham said. “I think tennis has gotten me to work harder because I know I like to procrastinate and with tennis I have to make sure that I have my school stuff done and I have to stay organized.”

Graham has emerged as a natural leader on among the Warriors from both the mentality and abilities she can bring to the team.

“Kiana is an incredible player and has more patience than I have ever seen before,” Coach Dalrymple said. “She is able to bring an incredible skill set and ability that other players can learn from. She makes everyone around her better.”

Graham credits her family for playing a large role in her opportunities and successful tennis career. Afterall, she only picked up the sport after her older sister, who enjoyed team sports and now plays soccer collegiately, disliked it. Her younger sister, on the other hand, is able to help her gain another perspective within the sport.

“Sometimes I’m feeding her balls and I’m teaching her, it’s a different kind of insight of tennis than when you’re playing and teaching,” Graham said. “It helps a lot with my consistency, even if I’m not playing everyday I’m teaching her.”

Eventually, Graham hopes to be able to play with her younger sister on the Westwood team, as she would be joining the Warriors when Graham competes in her senior year.

Her parents, who both competed on the international stage in running events, are able to provide insight and encouragement with their past experiences.

“My dad understands how individual sports work,” Graham said. “[My parents] know what the competitive atmosphere is like, it helps me to talk with them.”

Though it may seem that the magnitude of that pressure would create tensions for Graham to recreate or fulfill the expectations, it’s never been a force that has affected her.

“I don’t think about that at all really,” Graham said. “I’ve just never been like ‘oh I need to do good for somebody else because someone else did something,’ I just need to do as good as I think I can do.”

Graham’s continuous drive to become a better player, then, seems to stem from a raw passion for the sport. Despite the commitment needed for such a level of play, she continues to look higher and chase after bigger dreams.

“The most important part is to enjoy it,” Graham said. “I know a lot of people when they’re out on the court and playing bad and they’re like ‘I hate tennis,’ but then why are you playing? If you’re not enjoying it, then what’s the point?”