Thursday, June 20, 2024

UTSA alum uses student-athlete experience to shape new generation of Roadrunners

UTSA alum uses student-athlete experience to shape new generation of Roadrunners

Keegan McCain went from playing for UTSA Tennis to being a leader who is helping fellow student-athletes achieve their goals. This photo was taken when she attended the NCAA’s 2022 Career in Sports Forum at the organization's national office in Indianapolis.

JUNE 18, 2024 — Keegan McCain '23 came to UTSA with the goal of making a lasting impact on the university’s women’s tennis program. Now, she helps shape the lives of the next generation of student-athletes on a daily basis.

McCain played tennis for the Roadrunners from 2019-23 and currently serves as a graduate assistant for UTSA’s Student-Athlete Academic Services, working directly with the Roadrunners’ football program.

When she first started her role, not all of the student-athletes she mentored realized her background. McCain recalls an early conversation in which a football player commented that she couldn’t possibly understand what he was going through on a daily basis. A year into her graduate assistantship, McCain believes that her experience as a student-athlete has been one of her biggest strengths in developing quality relationships in her job.

“It helped me relate better with the student-athletes once they knew that about me,” McCain said. “I understand what it’s like being a student-athlete and I understand that it’s hard. I know what the practice schedule is like, going to weights and I understand everything you’re going through. It’s really helped in the sense that student-athletes feel more comfortable talking to me about the problems they’re going through and what they’re experiencing. And the ones who are graduating, they come in and say ‘I don’t know what’s next.’ I’ll tell them, ‘Hey, that’s exactly where I was a year ago; let’s figure this out.”

“I understand what it’s like being a student-athlete. I understand everything you’re going through.”

McCain was one of 200 individuals nationally who was selected to attend the NCAA Emerging Leaders Seminar this past February.

That McCain would become a collegiate tennis player seems almost destined, though she says her parents never encouraged her to follow any specific sports path.

Her mother, Patty, played collegiately at Stanford where she was the 1986 and 1987 NCAA single champion. She also was the 1987 NCAA runner-up in doubles and was part of three team national championships. Patty competed professionally on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour, earning recognition as the 1988 Tennis Magazine’s Professional Rookie of the Year honor and winning the 1991 Australian Open doubles title with Mary Jo Fernandez. Patty was a successful head coach at the University of Washington and the University of Texas.

Her father, Scott, played college tennis at Cal — once ranking as the nation’s top player — and professionally on the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour. He later served as the head coach at his alma mater and then coached professionally until 2014. He now owns and operates ATXD1 Academy, a junior tennis academy for the top junior players in Austin.

“I picked up tennis by the time I could walk, but it wasn’t necessarily that I had to play that sport,” McCain said. “My parents had thrown me into every sport under the sun. We had a rule in our house that we had to turn 12 before we chose a sport to fully commit to or quit sports entirely. I did swim, I did equestrian for a little bit and I played flag football too. Tennis was what I picked when I was 12. I dropped every other sport and just started playing tennis competitively.”

McCain excelled at both tennis and academics at Westlake High School in Austin, a school that has produced countless collegiate and professional athletes across all sports. Coming out of high school, she was a four-star recruit, a top-10-ranked tennis player within the state of Texas and one of the top-125 players in the nation. As a sophomore, she advanced to the University Interscholastic League Class 6A state semifinals in doubles. Her junior season, McCain reached the state quarterfinals of the UIL Class 6A mixed doubles championship. As a senior, she advanced to the UIL Class 6A state semifinals in mixed doubles. McCain was a four-year academic all-district selection.

When it came time to make her college choice, the opportunity to positively affect a UTSA program on the rise strongly appealed to McCain.

“My whole belief in coming into a program was that I wanted to leave my mark,” McCain said. “I wanted to help change a program and I wanted to be the heartbeat of the team. While I was looking at bigger universities and going on all those official visits in recruiting, I really decided that I wanted to be at a school where I could have an impact on the team, an impact on the university and an impact on myself as a whole.”

The fact that UTSA is only about 85 miles south of McCain’s home in West Austin also played an important role in her decision. She remains close to her younger siblings, Hayley and Sean.

“I am very big into my family,” McCain said. “I am able to go home and not have to miss out on my siblings’ lives.”

Read more about UTSA’s student-athletes.
Check out the 2024-2025 roster for UTSA Women’s Tennis. 

McCain had always been involved in volunteering for community-service based organizations, but had never been part of student organizations prior to her sophomore year at UTSA.

She began her collegiate career in the 2019-20 season, winning 10 matches in singles and playing at the No. 1 spot in doubles. The following fall, Stefanie Cisneros, UTSA’s Assistant Athletics Director for Life Skills, reached out to women’s tennis head coach Ki Kroll seeking a student-athlete to be involved in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. McCain embraced the opportunity and it began a path of strong campus involvement as an undergraduate.

McCain was part of the Roadrunner Leadership and Professional Development Academy and served as her team’s representative to SAAC. After an injury sidelined McCain in the fall of 2021, she became even more active in a variety of organizations. Her involvement included serving as President of One Goal, a student-led non-profit organization that worked to help underprivileged children have better access to sports and equipment. She was a campus captain for The Hidden Opponent, which promotes conversations about mental health in higher education. McCain was the SAAC liaison to Rowdy Crew, the campus student athletics spirit organization, and later became the school’s SAAC representative to Conference USA.

“By the time my senior year came around in the fall of 2022, I was involved in nine different organizations and I was in pretty high roles for every single organization that I was involved in,” McCain said. “I loved every aspect of it even though I didn’t have a lot of time while being a student-athlete. Stef really kickstarted a lot of this for me.”

Cisneros approached McCain — who has always known that she wants to pursue a career in sports — with the opportunity to apply to the NCAA’s Career in Sports Forum, a highly selective three-day educational program that brings together student-athletes from across the country to help them chart their career paths in sports.

“I ended up being selected as one of 200 student-athletes to go to the Career in Sports Forum,” McCain said. “I really loved that experience so much. It helped me narrow down specifically that I want to be in college sports and I want to be around student-athletes and enhance their time as student-athletes. It definitely also brought to light exactly what I want to do because I know there’s areas that I don’t want to work in. I wouldn’t have known that unless I went to that Careers in Sports Forum and talked with other student-athletes and GAs and interns at the networking night.”

While in Indianapolis, McCain also learned about the NCAA’s Ethnic Minority and Women’s Enhancement Graduate Scholarship. McCain, who graduated magna cum laude through the UTSA Honors College with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Marketing with a minor in sports management, is currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration and a Certificate in Data Science. She will graduate with both of those credentials from UTSA’s prestigious Carlos Alvarez College of Business in December 2024, a full semester early.

“I’ve always had the intent to go for a master’s degree; that was something my parents had really instilled in me since I started college,” McCain said. “I saw the scholarship opportunity and I filled it out and was awarded $10,000 by the NCAA. It’s 13 women and 13 ethnic minorities who receive that scholarship to help pay for grad school.”

As part of the scholarship, McCain received another opportunity to attend the NCAA Careers in Sports Forum in the spring of 2023. While she was there, McCain learned about another opportunity that existed within the NCAA — the Emerging Leaders Seminar, which helps graduate assistants and interns from NCAA member schools and conference offices to equip them with the schools necessary to accelerate their career progression in college sports.

“I remember asking during that time, ‘What are the next steps for someone like me who is now going to be working in a department? What steps can I take because I’m no longer a student-athlete?’” McCain said. “They told me to apply for the Emerging Leaders Seminar.”

McCain was once again one of 200 individuals nationally who was selected for a life-changing opportunity when she attended the Emerging Leaders Seminar this past February.

The thought of transitioning away from life as a student-athlete was almost overwhelming for McCain, as it is for many experiencing the same situation all across the nation.

“When you’re a student-athlete who’s not going to be a student-athlete any more, what do you do?” McCain asked herself. “Your whole life is literally shifting and you don’t know what to do. I knew I was going to grad school next, but I didn’t know what I was going to do during grad school work-wise. It was a little daunting.”

McCain originally thought she would work as a volunteer in student-athlete development under Cisneros’ leadership. In her first week on the job, she was approached by UTSA assistant athletics director for academic services Beth Noteware with an opportunity she couldn’t turn down.

“Beth said, ‘We have a paid position open. We need another grad assistant. Would you like to be part of this?’” McCain recalled. “That was never a realm that I thought I was going to find myself in. I ended up taking it and I absolutely love everything that I do and I love working with the student-athletes on a daily basis. I feel like I’m leaving an impact on them and helping them with their future careers as well as in their day-to-day lives.”

In her current role, McCain is a graduate assistant for Stephen Jauregui, UTSA assistant athletics director for football academic services. The experience has helped shape the path of McCain’s future.

“Stephen has been so amazing in helping me figure out where I want to go and what my next steps are from this,” McCain said. “All of this has kind of shifted where I want to be. I originally wanted to coach in college athletics, but now I want to be on the other side of things and really want to shape student-athletes from there. He has really helped me figure that out while I’ve been working here. I absolutely love sports and I can’t imagine my world without them.”

When the football players with whom McCain works express interest in pursuing careers in sports, she is eager for the opportunity to give back just as influential members of UTSA’s staff did for her.

“When those guys come in and say ‘I want to be involved in sports,’ I immediately direct them to all these applications I was filling out at that time,” McCain said. “I tell them that the sports industry is very competitive and you have to know people to get in. If you take these opportunities to go to these networking events and you get selected as one of 200 people to attend these NCAA events, you are setting yourself up for immense success because you’re seeing all the people who are going to be the next generation working in college athletics or working in professional sports.”

As McCain enters her second year as a graduate assistant with UTSA Athletics, her future career is taking shape and it’s a journey that she is finding incredibly rewarding.

“I would say to the current student-athletes, don’t be afraid of the next steps in your life because you’re going to go a million different directions before you find your path,” McCain said. “I don’t want them to be so stressed out about the future because I know that I was. My advice is to take advantage of every single thing you can because, even though we’re super busy as student-athletes, you have to remember that, at some point, you will need those opportunities to fall back on. I encourage everyone to go and apply for everything that they can.” 

Since first arriving in San Antonio in the fall of 2019, McCain has made the most of her opportunities. She now is at the start of a career driven by the desire to make a difference in the lives of others. 

“I am all about impacting student-athletes and leaving the world better than you found it.”

Sean Cartell

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