CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Falls tennis coach Mike Knox stopped by the Robinson-Dresser courts nearly a decade ago and introduced himself to a pair of girls hitting with their mom.
While he hoped their love of the sport would continue through high school, Knox had little idea back then the type of impact Krisha and Mira Keeran would one day have on his program. Barely reaching five feet tall, the Keeran sisters have been major catalysts in elevating the Tigers’ tennis team to another level.
Krisha and Mira Keeran have finished regular season play with identical 15-0 singles records, while joining forces to go 14-1 as Cedar Falls’ top-seeded doubles tandem. Their Cedar Falls team recently won its first Mississippi Division championship and enters regional matches a contender for the school’s first trip to the Class 2A semifinals.
While small in stature, Krisha Keeran has showcased big-time talent throughout her tennis career. She’s occupied the top spot in Cedar Falls’ singles lineup over the past three seasons and is in position to repeat as the Mississippi Division’s Player of the Year.
Knox still recalls a signature moment during Krisha Keeran’s freshman season. She recovered from her first career loss at Iowa City High in the morning and beat eventual Class 2A state doubles champion Emma Koch of Iowa City West that afternoon.
“At that moment I saw a mental toughness in Krisha that was something that goes beyond what you expect for any high school player, especially a freshman in the early stages of her high school career,” Knox said.
Krisha Keeran went 1-2 during the state singles tournament that initial varsity season before placing seventh in the state 2A singles competition last spring. Those who watch the Tigers’ standout compete for the first time are often amazed by the pace she hits with and how she’s rarely out of position.
Keeran's shot-making ability has evolved this season.
“One of Krisha’s greatest traits on the tennis court is being in the right position and getting to the balls that a lot of players wouldn’t get to,” Knox said. “When Krisha was a freshman, Krisha was literally a ball machine. She would just hit everything back and wait for her opponent to beat herself.
“Now Krisha has reached the point where she actually manages points. She plays with a purpose and actually sets shots up by how she plays. That’s the real progress I’ve noticed, especially this year.”
Initially drawn to the sport by a few family friends, the eldest daughter of Santhi Keeran and Keeran Ghandivel joins her sister in receiving instruction from Waterloo’s Black Hawk Tennis Club in addition to making trips to the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., and the Marchetti Tennis Academy in Kansas City.
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Krisha Keeran has been ranked as high as ninth in her age group in the USTA Missouri Valley region that includes Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. With Mira competing in a different age division, it’s not uncommon for their parents to travel with a different daughter to various locations throughout the Midwest for weekend tournaments.
Part of what has made this season special for Krisha is the opportunity to play doubles alongside her younger sister. Their only loss came after dropping a pair of tiebreaks in a 7-6, 7-6 setback to Iowa City West last week.
“I feel like we really get each other since I obviously know her very well,” Krisha Keeran said. “I really like that we’re able to be really honest with each other when we’re playing. We just know what each other are going to do. It’s really cool.”
While Cedar Falls lost that showdown of undefeated teams against Iowa City West last Thursday, tiebreakers proved to be the difference between a 7-2 defeat and a 5-4 win.
“Everyone was fighting extremely hard and I love that,” Krisha Keeran said. “There was so much competitive energy out there, people were shouting and cheering on our teammates. I love that kind of energy and I know if we face them again, we can take them down.”
Lone senior Jamie Knox has joined Krisha Keeran as captains for a team that features three talented freshman, and is determined to continue to make history this postseason.
“Every single person has been committed, either by taking private lessons, training through the summer or hitting with other teammates and family throughout the whole year,” Krisha Keeran points out. “Everyone has been really committed to the team, and that’s definitely been making a difference.”
As for her advice to younger teammates, Keeran added, “I let them know it’s not always about the results at the meet. We’re always going to be proud of them as long as they’re trying their best.”
The talented junior with aspirations of playing collegiate tennis has become a valuable leader.
“She is a great teammate,” Knox said. “As much as they want to be excellent in their individual matches, these older girls from the very beginning of the season, it was all about team goals.”