Senior Spotlight: Kianna Oda finds community at GU on and off the court

Student Kianna Oda prepares to hit a tennis ball
Kianna Oda on the court

May 21, 2024
Sydney Fluker ('24)

This piece is part of our Senior Stories series, in which we highlight GU students throughout the year.

Name: Kianna Oda
Major: Kinesiology
Hometown: Hilo, Hawai'i

When Kianna Oda first picked up a tennis racket in her third grade afterschool program, it just felt right.

Though the Division I tennis player’s journey began in her elementary school gym, it quickly progressed into a passion. Soon after that day, Oda asked her parents to sign her up for a tennis camp put on by the University of Hawai'i at Hilo men’s tennis team, where she met her future coach, Randy Kunimoto.

“Tennis was fully mine from the beginning,” Oda says. “I had siblings that played basketball, and I tried it, it just wasn’t for me. I just wanted to do something that was my own, and I really enjoyed it.”

After playing tennis casually for a few years, Oda committed to going as far as she could with tennis.

Though her goal was never to play professionally, Oda wanted to push herself to play at the D-I level. After looking at a few other schools, she decided that Gonzaga would be where she’d finish out her tennis years.

Four years later, Oda is thankful she made the decision to move the 2,845 miles to Gonzaga. Here, she’s been able to improve her game and her mindset, crediting her success to Gonzaga women’s tennis’s holistic approach to athletics and her team’s close bond.

Extra Mile Institute, a partner of Gonzaga Athletics, teaches mental performance skills and strategies tailored to the athletes and their sport. For Oda, the weekly meetings have helped her navigate the different challenges she faces on the court, both alone and with a doubles partner. Staying calm isn’t exactly her goal, but making calculated split-second decisions still requires intense concentration, no matter the score.

“I would describe myself as a feisty and competitive tennis player,” Oda says. “If you saw me on the court, I'd be very pumped up. Some people perform their best when they’re levelheaded, but I think I perform my best when I’m on some kind of adrenaline high. I’m moving around, I’m shouting because I won a point, I’m cheering for my teammates — I’m just loud and have lots of energy out there.”

Though tennis is an individual sport, Oda says the team's unofficial motto of “person over player” helps her keep a positive mindset, even during rough matches.

“Tennis doesn’t define who we are. Our wins and losses don’t define who we are,” Oda says. “People care about us as people — no one is going to look at us differently because we lost a match. [Person over player] is huge because a lot of times as an athlete, you get caught up in wanting to perform your best … You get caught up in the mental aspect and forget that everyone on the team still loves you, even if you missed that ball.”

Oda says the biggest aspect of their team dynamic is their love for each other on and off the tennis court, which motivates her to push herself in all aspects of her life.

Off the court, Oda enjoys attending Summit Church, which gives her another supporting and loving community in Spokane and a space to reflect on the lessons she misses in everyday chaos.

“Going to church teaches me a new lesson every day and that’s a big thing,” Oda says. “Coming to college, there’s something you can learn every single day, even if it’s the smallest thing. I love having that time to think on that.”

Oda has always wanted to be a nurse, but knew that completing a nursing degree while playing Division I tennis wouldn’t work for her. Instead, she entered Gonzaga as a kinesiology major, and loves the intimacy and support that being in a small department gives her to form meaningful connections both with other students and faculty.

She’s even been able to put her classroom experiences to use on the court.

“Being an athlete, you learn so many things about your body that you want to know but don’t get educated on,” Oda says. “In kinesiology, you learn those things just by the nature of the major. We tie what we learn about the body back into exercise, so I’m learning about it and seeing it in my sport at the same time.”

Oda opted to take nursing prerequisites rather than declaring a kinesiology concentration to help her transition into nursing school after college.

“I just really, really want to help people,” Oda says. “Nursing has a unique experience doing that … I feel like nurses are more like your friend, someone that can help you and be there for you during a scary time.”

She hopes to work in labor and delivery or in the neonatal ICU so she can be that helpful presence in other women’s journeys, especially during such a vulnerable period. She plans to begin nursing school next spring.

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