Calm demeanor on tennis court hides Carroll's passion for faith


By Robert Wilson

Victories in Metro Jackson

Kathryn Carroll’s temperament is so calm that most people can’t tell when she is winning or losing a tennis match.

But there isn’t any question where Carroll stands about her faith.

Carroll is on solid ground for Jesus Christ and she’ll make sure you know that.

A daughter of a United Methodist pastor, Carroll began a close relationship with Christ in the seventh grade.

“That’s when she first began to experience the opportunity to make Christ the center of her life and how important that was,” said Kathryn’s father, David Carroll, an associate pastor and youth pastor at Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson. “She was at a Breakthrough retreat and she heard them talking about eternal consequences. It scared her.”

“We had some intense worship experiences on that retreat,” Kathryn Carroll said. “We all had huge experiences, amazing God experiences, and I developed a deeper relationship with Christ. I’ve grown closer and closer since then.

“I think it’s very important that people can tell by your actions and mannerisms that you are a Christian. I try to praise God through tennis.”

Carroll began playing tennis at age four when she was only as tall as the net.

She went on to become a standout junior tennis player in Mississippi. She won three straight Class 5A girls singles championships and didn’t lose a match in her final three years while at Madison Central High School. Carroll received a full tennis scholarship from Birmingham Southern and is a freshman. She also helped her team win state championships in 2001 and 2002 and won a mixed doubles title with Taylor Clemmer as a freshman. Carroll made a splash on the Mississippi high school scene as an eighth-grader by reaching the finals after upsetting defending champion Olivia Berry of Gulfport in the semifinals.

Carroll was one of the top junior players in Mississippi and the South for the majority of her junior career. She won numerous junior tournaments and was ranked as high as No. 12 in the South and No. 197 in the nation in the 14s singles. Carroll won the girls 18s singles division this past spring at the prestigious Cabot Lodge Mississippi Junior Qualifying Tournament at Ridgeland Tennis Center and had a Top 60 ranking in the South in the 18s.

“I never saw Kathryn get frustrated or mad,” Madison Central tennis coach Terri Garren said. “She has such a great attitude. Kathryn is smart, has great talent and worked hard to achieve her goal of getting a tennis scholarship. She has a lot of determination. Kathryn is the ultimate team player.”

“Kathryn has always shown good sportsmanship since I’ve known her,” said Ryan Farlow, who was one of Carroll’s teammates at Madison Central who won three state titles and is now a freshman tennis player at Mississippi State. “She doesn’t show her emotions on the court and doesn’t allow herself to get too excited or too down. Kathryn keeps her mental game in check. She doesn’t allow things to get in her head while she’s on the court.”

Birmingham Southern women’s tennis coach Ann Dielen is excited to have Carroll on her team.

“Kathryn is truly the kind of student-athlete who will flourish at Birmingham Southern,” Dielen said. “She is not only a fine tennis player, but she is also a very fine student who is dedicated to doing her best in the classroom and on the courts.”

Carroll’s junior coach, River Hills director of junior tennis Jim Ragsdale, agrees that Birmingham Southern is a great fit with Carroll. Ragsdale’s daughter, Casey, is one of Carroll’s teammates. In addition, David Ray of Meridian plays on the men’s team at Birmingham-Southern.

“Kathryn is very strong and college coaches like that aggressive style,” Jim Ragsdale said. “She will make an excellent doubles player in college. Coach Dielen has been coaching at Birmingham Southern for 27 years and knows her tennis. She’s very high on Kathryn.”

During the 2006 season, Carroll has posted an 8-7 record No. 2 singles, including 4-2 record in the Big South Conference. She and partner Cammie Nix have posted a 6-7 mark at No. 1 doubles with a 3-3 conference record.

Carroll’s parents both played college tennis. Her mother, the former Laura Smith, played at Auburn and her father played at Millsaps College.

“When I was younger I thought I might want to go to an SEC school and that tennis would be my life,” Kathryn Carroll said. “But I knew I wasn’t good enough to be a professional tennis player and I wanted to go to a Methodist school and study biology or science. I liked Birmingham Southern. I’m on full scholarship, I can work at a church and this school has good academics. It’s a great situation.”

It was a joy for David Carroll to watch his daughter grow up and mature in his church at Galloway after moving from Winona when Kathryn Carroll was entering her sixth grade year.

“I’ve been in a wonderful position to watch Kathryn and Benjamin (Kathryn’s older brother) grow spiritually,” David said. “We have a very diverse youth group at Galloway and Kathryn has friends from many schools. It has made it fun for her. They all came together. It wasn’t about our little school or community, it was about our faith when we met. That’s what made such a great fellowship for Christ. It wasn’t about the Jaguars, Patriots or Saints.”

“Kathryn has a real tenacious faith,” said Ben, a senior at Rhodes College in Memphis. “She does a great job of living out her faith. Kathryn has been a very good mentor in Galloway’s youth group. She’s an inspiration to our family.”

Kathryn Carroll lost an important member of her family about three years ago when her grandfather, Dr. Robert R. Smith, died while playing in a tennis tournament at River Hills Club.

“Kathryn and Dr. Smith were very close,” David said. “She had great support from him. He died shortly after she won her first state title. He always offered support, encouragement and a $100 bill every now and then. He would have been so proud of her now.”

“My grandfather was always the sweetest person and he touched a lot of people,” Carroll said. “He was a huge supporter of my tennis. I remember I had my first car wreck, sprained my ankle playing tennis and my grandfather died all in a month’s time. It was a tough time in my life. My grandfather would come to my tennis matches and enjoyed every minute. He was a wonderful man and I miss him.”

Carroll, like her grandfather, has touched many people in her life. She’s on her way to touching many more as she shines for Jesus Christ in her tennis and her life.

Wilson is the publisher and editor of Victories in Metro Jackson magazine, a quarterly Christian sports publication in Jackson. Email Wilson at or call  601-506-2276  for more information.