Kiva Gresham and her Devotion to Family and Soccer

March 31, 2017

When Kiva Gresham was four years old, people tried to make her switch from playing t-ball with the boys to playing softball with the girls.

She refused. So the next year she signed up for soccer instead and in her very first game, she scored not one … not two … not three … but four goals.

Needless to say, falling in love with soccer was pretty immediate. The first order of business was deciding what jersey number to wear. It only made sense to wear No. 4 after the hat trick plus one game.

Next was learning as much about her new-found sport as she could. With that, she got help from her first soccer coach, Jose.

“At one of my very first practices, our coach split us up into different coaches,” Kiva remembered. “Each country was like a little box on the ground and so we would all claim our own countries. I was always Brazil. We would have to do little ball skills and keep our ball in our own countries. That is one of my first memories of soccer is doing that.”

The coach tried to get Kiva to play in goal sometimes because she had quick hands. However, the first time she ever got scored on (blames the sun still to this day), she never played goalie again.

To her credit, the sun definitely beams bright in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she was born and raised. Growing up, she played on the same team from the time she was five all the way until middle school. They used to practice at a local elementary school where they actually had that green stuff called grass.

Other fields and parks were more like hay on top of dirt in the city that sits on the northern tip of the Chihuahuan Desert.

As she grew older and got better, greener and better fields came into play. When middle school came around, she started to realize she was pretty good at this soccer thing. That is when she branched out and started to play competitive soccer for club teams.

 

 

As a result, Kiva started to gain a lot of interest from a lot of different colleges. Most were local, but she did turn down a scholarship offer to Texas Tech. Then one day back home after playing in a tournament in Houston, she got a phone call.

“We were so bad,” Kiva said about that the team in that tourney. “I guess I did something right as a striker because when I got home, [Louisiana Tech head coach Jennifer Soileau Burns] called me up and invited me to come to Tech. She told me about the program and her vision for going forward and changing the culture. She thought I could be a key person in that.

“When I came on my official visit, I remember landing in the Monroe airport. I thought what the heck am I getting myself into. I had never been to Louisiana before. It was not really until I met some of the girls on the team. One player in particular, Denise Wilson, I remember sitting with her at the football game and she made me feel so included and happy to be here. It was at that moment at the football game that I knew this is where I am going to come. It hit me out of the blue.”

She gave her commitment to LA Tech in November of 2006. Her senior year of high school was not even over before she found out coach Burns was leaving the program.

Despite the sudden unknown to her future, she never wavered in coming to Ruston. She was determined to come in and start, play day one and make an immediate impact on the program.

By mid-June, Kiva had a new head coach. His name was Kevin Sherry.

“I remember the first thing Kevin ever said to me,” Kiva said. “He called me up because he was asking for sizes for preseason. I told him my shoe size was 4 ½. I wear small, small, small. He was like, ‘How small are you?’ I responded with, ‘It is okay coach, I play big.’ He laughed. He had no idea who I was at that moment. We were both unknown to each other.”

Kiva was not your prototypical striker. Never had been. She was not 6-feet tall that played power soccer up top. She was 5-feet, 4-inches in height and always underestimated.

However, she was extremely competitive, a bit scrappy and had incredible technique, touch and decision-making.

Her kind of soccer fit perfect with coach Sherry’s kind of soccer.

Kiva’s first day at LA Tech was also coach Sherry’s first day on the job in preseason in 2007. Ten years later and they are still together and a lot of success has occurred in that decade of time. Sherry credits a lot of that to the New Mexican forward.

“I have seen Kiva develop as a player and as a person over the 10 years into someone who truly reflects everything good about LA Tech Soccer,” Sherry said. “She is by far the best soccer player ever to play in the soccer program from its inception in 2004. When I took over the program, we built the team around Kiva, not only on the field but the culture of the program away from the field.

“The LA Tech Soccer story really began the moment Kiva agreed to buy into what we wanted to do and how we were going to make changes. She committed herself 100 percent to the project and without that commitment, I am very confident the program would not be what it is today.”

That first year for Kiva and coach Sherry was much more about change than it was winning. Only players who fit the core values and the new vision of the program remained. It was about the process of creating a sound culture within the program.

The Lady Techsters went 2-14-1 that year, playing on the turf of Joe Aillet Stadium. The next season as a sophomore, they were named the most improved team in the country with a 10-5-5 record.

“At that point, we had more than just six or seven players that were trying to play soccer together,” Kiva said. “It was more of that team camaraderie. We came together as a team and winning became something nice for us. Our ultimate goal was to win a conference game. We were so close. That was our goal. We were playing at Ruston Junior High School and there were four or five games that had gone into double overtime and we would either end up tying or losing in the last minute.”

Junior year came around and the team was about to play on their third pitch in three years. This would be the best one yet though. This one would be their own – the Lady Techster Soccer Complex.

The season opener came at home against Lamar and resulted in a 3-2 double overtime win. They would not be beaten the rest of non-conference. Then Western Athletic Conference play started up and it was five straight losses.

The sixth game was the home finale and it was against New Mexico State. Kiva, who was now playing full-time at forward instead of defender, scored the first goal, receiving a long ball over the top and then dribbling toward the keeper who stayed on her line and toe-poking it past her.

The Aggies equalized though with just over a minute left in regulation.

“It was one of those here we go again,” Kiva recalled. “We had so many strong personalities and good players on the team that we were not going to let this happen. We are going to win this game.”

She was right. In double overtime, she sprinted into the box when Olivia [Lukasewich] crossed the ball in, Kat McCullough dummied it and she hit it first time into the net.

The fans, with their pots and pans, erupted. Everyone stormed the field. There was a dogpile. It was like the team had won the World Cup.

Senior year quickly came for Kiva where there would be several memorable moments.

LA Tech took down Nevada, 3-1, in the second game of league play. A week later, they went and played at Boise State and shocked the reigning conference champion Broncos in a 1-0 victory.

The next match came against San Jose State in Ruston. It was an epic match that locals still talk about to this day. The Lady Techsters were down 4-2 with 10 minutes to go, and then the craziness happened.

Kiva cut the deficit down to one with her second goal of the game coming in the 84th minute. Later, with 30 seconds to go in regulation, her teammate Scottie Culton sent the match into overtime with a converted penalty kick.

Five minutes into the first overtime period, Kiva did her airplane celebration after recording a hat trick with the golden goal.

Of all these magical moments, none of them were her favorite that season. That honor belonged to the following weekend when she returned to her home state for her final collegiate road game.

“The trip to New Mexico State was the first time I had ever played in front of my grandma,” Kiva said while trying to hold back tears. “My whole family was there, aunts, uncles, nieces. It is only three hours from home. The first goal of the game was actually from Taylor Dennis who was my fellow New Mexican on the team. She hit a corner kick straight to my head and I just headed it near post.

“The stands erupted. We had more fans just between her and me. It was a very emotional moment. It was nice to have my family’s support there.”

Kiva and the team had done another first. They had qualified for the conference tournament. So much of it had to do with the established team culture. The team was a family.

Just like her family of teammates, the bond she has with her immediate family is unbreakable, especially after going through several hardships.

Her dad, Monty, got into a bad car accident that almost ended his life. He had to basically learn how to walk and talk and read and write all over again.

Her mom, Misty, battled and defeated breast cancer. Her older brother, Kyle, suffered a bad biking accident and had to stop racing BMX.

She is such a family-oriented person, that she makes the 14 ½ hour drive to Albuquerque three times a year for Thanksgiving, Christmas and one time during the summer.

“I make that drive with my four animals in my blue ’94 Honda Accord which is actually older now than all of the players on the team,” Kiva laughed. “It has 290,000 miles on it. I rolled my car, a ’95 Honda Accord, on my trip back my senior year, but we took the engine out of that car and put it in the one I have now.

“The current car has cruise control and power windows so it is much better. Cruise control is very vital to that trip. I’ve probably made the trip 50 times since I’ve been in Ruston.”

There is also Kiva’s animal family that she loves so dear. There are cats, Marley and Neytiri, which she has had for over a year. Then after seeing a video of a rabbit and a cat being friends, she wanted to make that happen.

That is when Gibbs, named after Kieran Gibbs from Arsenal (her favorite soccer team) joined the household. Then a few months later, another cat got inside her house and ended up staying. Meet Juno.

Kiva is very much a kid at heart. The things that make kids happy make her happy. Whether that be wearing panda socks with hearts on them or loving Disney movies, she has a special way of connecting with the players she now coaches as a fifth-year assistant at LA Tech and with the kids she comes in contact with through community service work.

“Kiva is one of the nicest people you are ever likely to meet and is a great ambassador for the program wherever she goes,” coach Sherry said. “When we do free coaching sessions for the young kids in the community, the kids flock to her. When we have recruits and their families visit, they always talk of how welcoming and nice Kiva was.

“The players feel very comfortable approaching her with any problem they may have. It makes my job easier and I am forever in her debt. She is such a wonderful person and the best soccer player ever to play at LA Tech.”

Her undeniable love of soccer is what brought her back to Ruston as a coach, two years after she graduated.

She spends, on average, about 25 hours a week on the pitch. A good chunk of that is practices and spending extra time with the strikers. The rest is playing soccer herself four to five times a week for two to three hours at a time.

The still undersized and underestimated striker, who accumulated 27 goals and 20 assists in her Lady Techster career and still owns the single-season record with 32 points, still has that incredible technique and decision-making too.

Just ask the current team who recently saw her score two goals on them in the annual spring alumni game.

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