Four years ago, Kiani Ramsey committed to wearing a red and black Raider jersey for her collegiate athletic career. Today, she is weeks away from receiving her diploma in a Carolina blue gown.
After transferring from Texas Tech, Ramsey has now spent her last two years of college playing softball at UNC, feeling a little more at home in Chapel Hill each day.
“The first thing on my mind was softball,” Ramsey said. “That is what made me leave Tech, so I could go somewhere I feel like I would keep growing as a player and a place I feel like I would fit in. And I really think that UNC is that place.”
After the head coach at Texas Tech, the one responsible for Ramsey's recruitment, ended up leaving, there wasn't the same connection between her and the Raider coaching staff. Despite the replacement coach's insistence, Ramsey eventually decided that Texas Tech was just not right for her.
“She was off to a rough start as an athlete as Texas Tech,” Ramsey’s father, Donald Ramsey, said. “I saw her really start to struggle in ways that I have never seen her struggle before. It just wasn’t the right fit for her."
Kiani was born and raised in southern Texas, so the east coast had always been foreign to her. After visiting North Carolina however, she recognized the high academic standard of the institution and decided she would call it home for the remainder of her college experience.
“Of course everyone knows the UNC Tar Heels,” Kiani said. “Everyone knows what this college is about.”
Head coach Donna Papa said that the transition upon her arrival was seamless, because Ramsey fit right into the team.
“Everybody always deserves another opportunity,” Papa said. “Sometimes it’s just not the right fit, and we were fortunate enough to get her in our program and she has helped us from day one.”
Donald Ramsey credited the smooth transition to Papa and the rest of the coaching staff at UNC.
“Coach Papa has made it a point to mention to her that no matter what circumstances brought you here to us, you’re here now,” he said. “She welcomed her as if she was one of her own original players.”
Ramsey’s best friend and old teammate, Raina O’Neill, said she could see how much Ramsey loved UNC as soon as she got there.
“Overall honestly, she just seemed so much more happy,” O’Neill said. “She has developed as a player in general. She has always talked about certain things she has wanted to do as a player and has been able do those at UNC.”
Ramsey grew up playing many different sports, but softball was always her main focus. Coached by her father for much of her childhood, the idea that “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” was ingrained in her at a young age. The saying has carried over through the years into both her academic and athletic pursuits.
“Because of sports, I was able to adopt this work ethic that went hand in hand with school, and they just fed off of each other,” Kiani said.
She also stressed the impact of family — more specifically her nephew, Omar — on her life. Omar spent the first few months of his life in intensive care and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He won't be able to play sports, but loves watching them, and adds a whole new level of gratitude for her.
“My biggest reason for what keeps me going is Omar,” Kiani said. “Whenever I am having a hard day, I just think about him. He’s kind of my "why" at the end of the day.”
Omar played an instrumental role in her career path. Ever since she watched her dad go to work as a paramedic growing up, Kiani knew she wanted to work with the human body. She was considering occupational therapy, but once Omar was born – during her senior year of high school – she decided that helping people was what she wanted and needed to do.
“He is just a miracle on top of all miracles,” Kiani said. “He is so happy, and no matter what, I just want to be as happy as Omar is on a day to day basis.”
Softball was yet another reminder of the way Kiani can change the lives of others. She spent her summers traveling over two hours for practice in order to compete at the highest level possible. In high school she played for Impact Gold, a club team out of Houston, and the organization's motto, “Be The Impact,” is still in Kiani's Instagram biography today.
“You want to impact others around you,” Kiani said. “For me, it is to be an impact to your teammates, I want to be the kind of player that leads by action and by doing that subconsciously it makes others want to step up in their role.”
And she leads by example. A chorus of comments from family, friends, teammates and coaching all have one central theme: Kiani Ramsey works hard for what she wants.
“She wasn’t one of those kids where I had to force to get out and work,” Donald said. “She wanted to put in the work on her own in order to keep my pace with her teammates.”
No matter what jersey she has stepped on the diamond in, Kiani battles to be the best she can be. Conveniently, the chorus to her favorite song, “The Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes, reads “give me scars, give me pain then just say to me, say to me, say to me there goes a fighter.”
“With the other seniors, she was instrumental in helping us improve our culture and our chemistry,” Papa said.
Kiani has been just as much of an asset to the team’s on-field performance as she has to the Tar Heel culture. In her junior year at UNC, she had the top batting average for the Tar Heels with an average of .374, third best in the ACC, on 58 hits. This season, Kiani leads the team with a .369 batting average and has the second most RBIs on the team.
“She is very effective at the plate we moved her to our number three hitter this year,” Papa said. “We really needed some more offense and we put her in that spot and she has provided a big spark for us there.”
Kiani is playing some of the best softball she's ever played, and has found a new home in Chapel Hill.
“Being so far away from home you still want to be comfortable in the environment you are in,” Ramsey said. “With all my coaches they are so great with establishing that personal relationship with each of their players.”
As she has grown closer with the team and the coaches she has been able to experience memorable moments on and off the field.
“We really enjoy each other’s company and I think that tops a lot of even like game moments,” Ramsey said.
With her last games at UNC on the horizon, Kiani will soon hang up that Carolina blue jersey for the last time, her head held high and a big Texan smile on her face.
“She made the choice to move to North Carolina and there she had a glimpse of her old self again,” Donald said. “She had a love for a game and really wanted to be a part of something great. We are extremely blessed she ended up in a place like North Carolina.”