When Tessa Gray first started tennis in the fifth grade, she had a pink Barbie racket with some pink tennis balls.
Her main focus was just hitting the ball.
“I didn’t care where the ball went, I just hit it,” Gray said.
Turns out she started to hit it pretty good. After years of hard work and success, Gray signed her letter of intent to continue her academic and athletic career with the University of the Cumberlands on Wednesday, in the Mason County High School Library.
“Tessa is an elitist when it comes to her work ethic. She challenges herself more than any athlete at Mason County right now,” former Mason County tennis coach Clay Boone said. “She’s constantly doing things on her own. Hitting, conditioning, playing with next level players. She’s done everything from taking care of her body and staying mentally focused.”
Gray has been a huge part of the Mason County tennis program over the years, starting in seventh grade when she made the state doubles tournament. She’s the undoubted leader of the team and has been for years.
“Her character is top notch, she always has a smiling face. She’s very honest and polite with others. She has an infectious smile and is always smiling. She makes people around her better and happy. The younger kids look up to her. She’s a true model of what a student athlete should resemble in our school system. She always brings great energy, is always working on her game and is an active member of the community,” Boone said.
As the hard work over summer and travel to different cities to take on top notch competition, Gray continued to excel, winning the 10th Region Tournament her junior year. She was so dominant in the regional tourney last year, she dropped just three games all tourney, plowing through the field.
She’ll look for back-to-back titles this spring. That’s not her only goal for the upcoming season, after making the state tournament for three straight years in singles play, Gray is determined to make it past the second round, a roadblock for her over the years.
Getting to where she’s at today hasn’t been easy. Maysville isn’t exactly a hotbed for tennis filled with quality competition. So she improvised and found that competition.
“I’ve learned to love the road,” Gray said of many trips to Lexington, Morehead and Ashland over the years. “It makes it difficult with school and trying to maintain a 4.0 (GPA). Many late nights and soreness after. A lot of icing and homework.”
That included tournaments over the summer, instructions with former Morehead State tennis coach and current assistant at Louisville in Kevin Fulton and work with other people around the area.
“If she doesn’t have someone like Kevin or me or her dad (Mark) to push her, former players like Travis Scaggs, it takes time to hit with her. She had to find people to play at the next level, it’s hard even in the region to find players,” Boone said. “At 12 years old she told me she wanted to be in that trophy case at Mason County and knew what it took to get there which was beating Highlands. Back in sixth or seventh grade, Tessa couldn’t get a point off of them, she took the challenge head-on.”
The type of players Gray sought out is what brought her to Cumberlands. She’s familiar with a player currently on the team and will be heading there with one of her junior tennis teammates that she played with over the summer.
“It’s always been my dream to play college tennis. I knew I had the potential, but once I made state it made me realize. So when I started making college visits, the dream started to come true,” Gray said. “Cumberlands always stuck out to me, I have a friend that went there and talking with her and knowing others going there helps a lot.”
Gray plans on majoring in biology and going into the medical field after college.
Before she does that, she has a regional title to defend, along with the Lady Royals team title, something they did last year that they hadn’t in 26 years.