This was no surprise.
Strickland’s sister, Britney, is a 2010 graduate of Swett who played varsity tennis for the Lady Rams, and their mother, Janice, was an all-conference player at South Robeson High who went on to compete for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke women’s tennis team.
Needless to say, growing up, Strickland often found herself on a tennis court with family members.
“When I was younger we used to go out to the courts at the college (UNCP) and play a lot,” said Strickland, whose father Steven was a former football player at Scotland High. From there, her time on the court steadily ramped up. By her seventh-grade year, Strickland was taking lessons from Roger Martin, the tennis pro at the Lumberton Racquet & Swim Club.
“I didn’t start to get serious about it until my eighth grade year,” Strickland said. “I just realized that I had a passion for it and that’s what I wanted to do and it just became natural.”
Strickland, Swett’s No.1 singles player, has showed as much this year. In fact, a period has been put on the high school tennis season for all of the Robeson County players except for Strickland, who will compete in the NCHSAA East individual regionals at Mazarick Park in Fayetteville starting at 2 p.m. Friday.
Strickland gritted to a third-place finish at the Southeastern Conference tournament last week to secure a spot in this weekend’s regionals. A feat Purnell Swett coach David Leek was confident Strickland could achieve.
“I felt she had a good shot, but it’s all about the draw,” Leek said. “She had a very tough opponent in the second round of the conference tournament and I thought she played perhaps her best match of the season.”
That match was against Lumberton’s No. 1 Abby Cain, a freshman, who Strickland methodically overtook 6-1, 6-1.
“I was really scared about that match with Cain, she’s just a ninth-grader but swings it really well,” Leek said. “But Kali came out and she just put everything together that day. I’m really proud of her for qualifying for regionals and she’ll certainly represent the school community well.”
For the second time in two years, as Strickland qualified for regionals last season in doubles with teammate Larissa Lowry.
“I was hoping that I’d get to regionals again this year,” said Strickland, who currently holds a 10-5 singles record and a 9-3 doubles mark with Lowry.
With that box checked, Strickland is now hoping to work her way through regionals and into the state championships.
“It would be awesome to win the whole thing,” Strickland said. “But, I’m just going to try to play my best and play my game and just do as good as I can and see how things go.”
Strickland’s first-round opponent will be determined Friday when the coaches decide the player seedings. If she advances out of this weekend’s regionals, Strickland will move on to the state championships on Oct. 26-27 at Millbrook Exchange Park in Raleigh.
“(Qualifying for state) is feasible, yes, just based on the kind of kid she is,” Leek said of Strickland, who flexes a 4.25 weighted GPA. “She is a solid student and citizen from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and I think that carries over to her tennis. She works so hard and never stops looking to improve her game.
“She’s got the potential to be the best player I’ve ever coached and that’s certainly exciting.”