RIO GRANDE CITY — Kayla Peña began her high school tennis career playing mixed doubles as a freshman alongside her older brother, Rogelio Evan Peña.
She learned and listened as the duo journeyed to regionals together during their one-year run as doubles partners.
As a sophomore, Peña advanced to regionals in girls singles, and last season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now a senior, Peña’s high school tennis career has culminated in her becoming the first in Rio Grande City history to qualify for the UIL State Tennis Meet, scheduled for Thursday and Friday at Northside ISD Tennis Center in San Antonio.
“It’s such an honor that I get to go and represent Rio, especially since this is where I grew up and started playing tennis. Seeing me change with the city of Rio Grande, I’m glad Rio can see the opportunities of what could happen,” Peña said.
The Rio Grande City senior punched her ticket to state by winning silver in girls singles at the Region IV-5A Tennis in San Antonio last month.
She’s now one of eight girls singles competitors with a shot at winning a state championship.
Peña will face off against Megan Do of Nederland, the Region III-5A champion. The quarterfinals of the state meet are set to begin at 8 a.m. Thursday.
“It’s still very surreal. I’m glad that I joined tennis and all the years I’ve been practicing have paid off,” she said. “Hopefully, this paves the way for more people to see that there is a future in tennis and tennis can bring you things that you wouldn’t expect.”
Rafael Vazquez first coached Peña during middle school and is in his second year as her head coach at the varsity level.
“We were all excited when we went to regionals, and now it’s awesome to see her go to state. In tennis, we’ve never had anybody go to state, so to be with her as a coach is amazing,” Vazquez, the Rio Grande City head coach, said.
Peña, who will play college tennis at Concordia University in Austin upon graduation, has learned what it takes to compete at a high level over the course of her career. During the regional final last month in San Antonio, she was in a three-set thriller that proved to her she can play with the best Texas has to offer.
“When it’s a high-stakes match, you have to play in the moment. You can’t be thinking about what you did the point before or thinking about the next point, you have to be in the moment and play one point at a time,” she said. “Now that I’m a senior, I’ve already gone through the process multiple times and I know what I have to do.”