Meg Graham’s senior season at UC Riverside didn’t go as planned, but senior night went better than she could have ever dreamed.
The middle blocker for the Highlander women’s volleyball team (10-18 overall, 2-14 in the Big West Conference) helped her squad knock off powerhouse UC Santa Barbara in straight sets on Nov. 18 at home.
“It was a crazy upset,” said Graham, a 2014 Agoura High graduate. “It was so amazing to beat this big competitor to finish out my career.
“My whole family was there. Being able to get that win with this group of girls I’ve been playing with for so long was something I won’t forget.”
It was a happy ending to a roller-coaster of a season for the 22-year-old.
Graham, a third-year starter, entered her senior year with aspirations of turning pro after college. The Highlanders surged during the non-conference portion of the schedule, winning five of its first six matches for one of the program’s best starts in school history.
The gravy train didn’t last long: Graham suffered a broken pinkie on her right hand, the dominant hand that helped the 6-foot-2 senior tally 59 kills and 13 blocks during the hot start.
She missed the next six weeks. She returned on Oct. 13 against UC Davis.
“When I came back, it just wasn’t the same,” she said. “It was the pinkie. I had this giant cast on my hand.”
Graham wore the cast throughout the remainder of her senior season. She finished the year with 120 kills, 46 blocks and 17 digs. In four seasons, Graham compiled 537 kills, 281 blocks and 94 digs.
While the injury changed her mind about going pro, she’s glad she got to finish out the season, and her career, on the court with her teammates.
Kaiulani Ahuna, a junior outside hitter, said she cherished the final few months with her teammate and roommate.
“She’s probably one of the best blockers I’ve played with, and she has really good court awareness,” Ahuna said. “I liked playing with her a lot. She was a great leader. She kept positive vibes on the court. She was a great teammate to look up to.”
Graham said closing out her playing career was an unforgettable experience. She also got to relish one more big victory before walking off the court for the last time.
“It kind of didn’t even feel real after playing for 11 years,” the Highlander said. “Having to hang up the jersey was definitely bittersweet.”
Graham’s college jersey will hang in her mom’s office. Her mother, Kate Cangiano, is an accountant.
“She drove me to all those tournaments at 5 in the morning, so I figured she could have this trophy,” Meg Graham said of her mom.
Graham, who will graduate June 22 with a degree in sociology, wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a successful businesswoman.
“She’s always been my inspiration,” Graham said. “I got to watch her work up the ladder as a woman. That’s always been my goal, too.”
Graham’s father, Robert, is a physical therapist who works with children and adults with cerebral palsy.
Abigail Graham, Meg’s older sister, is a 2011 Agoura graduate who is finishing up her schooling at UC Davis.
Graham battled former Agoura teammate Katie Sato every time the Highlanders faced Cal State Northridge.
“Being able to play against her every year was really cool,” Graham said of Sato. “After every game, we’d always link up and say hi. It was really nice to see the familiar faces.”
Michelle Patton-Coleman, UC Riverside’s head coach, said the Highlanders will miss their joyful teammate.
“She always makes people laugh,” the coach said of Graham. “She has a great personality. She has that kind of gift to be able to keep things light. That’s something our team will definitely miss about her.”
Patton-Coleman, who recruited Graham out of high school, added that she has high hopes for Graham once she graduates.
This wasn’t the senior season Graham hoped for, but her overall experience at UC Riverside has been transformative.
“Being able to play four years of Division I ball was an experience that definitely changed my life,” she said. “I can take away the commitment and dedication it takes to finish strong.”
Email Jonathan Andrade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Charger in a nutshell
Meg Graham finished her college athletic career on a strong note with the UC Riverside women’s volleyball team. Despite battling an injury during her senior campaign, the 2014 Agoura High graduate was able to run her career totals to 537 kills, 281 blocks and 94 digs in four seasons. She’ll graduate with a degree in sociology on June 22.
TV show: “Arrested Development”
Restaurant: Taco Bell
Band: Rascal Flatts
Book series: “Harry Potter”
Team: Los Angeles Rams
Athlete: Kobe Bryant