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  • Writer's picturePatrick Engels

Kendra Parra is a Compassionate Competitor for MSU Denver

Board games. Trampoline football. Basketball. Name the activity, and Kendra Parra will seek to dominate you.

It makes Kendra, Kendra.

“I hate losing,” Parra said.

For the now 21-year-old Metropolitan State University of Denver star, Parra has used this ultra-competitive persona to chase and achieve greatness since her early days in rural Del Norte, Colorado.

Perhaps more important, Parra’s fervent nature has helped define her life and basketball journey– and ironically led her to evolve from a relentless, sometimes excessive, competitor into a mature young woman.

Mature enough to complete an hour and 22-minute interview. From a bus. In the middle of Costa Rica.

Finding her Competitive Spirit

Before emerging as an intimidating force for Metropolitan State University of Denver, Parra developed her fierce persona in her 35-acre childhood home.

Taking advantage of the Del Norte, Colorado abode she described as “in the middle of the woods,” Parra said she and her siblings often participated in numerous outdoor activities throughout her childhood, ranging from four-wheeling to tree climbing and ziplining.

These backyard exploits quickly transformed into athletic bouts when Kendra forced her siblings, mostly brothers Ben and Carlos, to compete with her in many sports such as basketball and trampoline football.

This, according to Kendra, became something her brothers did not take so kindly.

“I don’t think they liked me, actually,” Parra said with a chuckle.

Although this action caused some family resentment, Parra said battling with her brothers was necessary, as it helped foster a feeling of athletic intensity and spirit that might have otherwise been hard to come by in her desolate rural community.

“We don’t have neighbors, my town is really small,” Parra said. “So I had to find a way to find some competition, which was right at home.”

With her siblings on board and her fiery nature intact, Parra set out to dominate in any capacity - whether it be on the basketball court, the backyard or – as crazy at it may seem – on the trampoline gridiron.

How did Kendra fare in these bizarre contests? According to the source herself, the results often resided in her favor, proclaiming - rather boastfully, for that matter - that she “absolutely” defeated her brothers in any athletic competition.

But those victories did not come without any physical confrontation.

“Some of the sports, [mostly] basketball and football, it would always be a competition,” Parra said. “Sometimes it would end up in a fist fight, not going to lie. I got an uppercut to the nose once. We were playing football on the trampoline.”

Parra’s contentious familial battles did not end with Ben and Carlos. The Del Norte native said she also butted heads with her father, Greg Parra, on the hardwood throughout her childhood. And, while Kendra proudly proclaimed that she dominated her brothers, she admitted the games between dad and daughter would not fare well for the young Parra.

“When we started playing one-on-one, I would not want to lose to him at all. Even though I would lose to him, then I would get upset.”

Just like with her brothers, Parra’s clashes with her father also turned heated, highlighted by one bout during a matchup that left Kendra injured.

“I remember one time playing one-on-one against her, and I gave her a head fake and she jumped,” Greg Parra said. “She came down, I went up. And my head hit her lip, and just busted it open. And she’s in the house crying, ‘Oh, my lips busted.’ I think I took a picture of it too just to remember that. It was always pretty physical.”

Approaching Athletic Stardom

After competing with her siblings and father throughout her early childhood on her own property, Parra took her already-fiery spirit outside of her home, participating in many organized sports at a young age. By just fifth grade - while attending Del Norte Elementary School - Parra’s sports list included basketball, soccer, flag football, T-ball and….. wrestling.


Yes, wrestling.

Parra used her unique toughness to excel as a wrestler throughout her childhood, dominating the boys with an undefeated record and collecting “thousands of medals.”

Kendra’s mastery in the ring caught the eye of many throughout the small Del Norte community, including her father.

“During the first couple of tournaments, I was kind of worried, like, ‘ah, she is wrestling guys,’” Greg Parra said. “But no, she was just so strong back then. She would just manhandle these kids. And the boys would be crying because they lost to a girl. So I think that was always one of my favorite memories, just seeing her compete and gain some notoriety from that.”

Despite all the accolades, Parra said the most memorable moment of her wrestling career came when she matched up with a school bully.

“I remember this one time, this kid was bullying my older brother,” Parra said. “I had to go against him in a one-on-one, and I slammed him on his back. And then I was like, ‘Don’t ever do that again.’ And then I walked away.”

Although Parra imposed her will in the wrestling ring, basketball provided her with the greatest opportunity to display her passion for sports and her desire to win.

This became evident beginning at age nine when she stepped foot on the blacktop during recess - looking for blood.

“The only reason I wanted to go to school was so I could play on the blacktop in basketball against the boys,” Parra said. “So then I can talk s@*%, but we would beat them.”

Aside from recess, Parra said she and her dad looked to elevate her skills by signing up for week-long summer basketball camps at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado, where Greg Parra played guard for the men’s basketball team from 1992 to 1997.

Participating in the camp from third to eighth grade, Parra learned the fundamentals of the game through countless dribbling and passing drills. Aside from the skills, she also displayed her toughness and confidence by challenging — and defeating — older campers.

“I remember clearly, one of those three-on-three [games], they ended up beating a high school team for the championship,” Greg Parra said. “It got pretty physical, and they were talking, but she just never backed down. It didn’t matter if she was in junior high, and they were high schoolers. She just wasn’t afraid.”

Toning down the competitiveness?

While Kendra’s desire to dominate and defeat her opponents led her on a path towards early athletic success in basketball and beyond, her unique mentality would also force her to encounter, and eventually address, a major life hurdle.

Due to the countless athletic clashes with her siblings and others, Kendra had become excessively competitive as a child, causing her to develop some immature and combative character traits that were most evident while playing sports.

Kendra recalls one specific moment during her early hoops career when she displayed this demeanor, where she turned increasingly frustrated over both the lack of enthusiasm for sports in her small community and the immense talent gap between herself and her teammates.

“Most people in my town didn’t really enjoy sports as much as me,” Parra said. “So it would be hard to get groups together to play. When I did play, [in] fifth, sixth grade, I was playing with the high schoolers in practice. Come middle school time, when we would play games, it would be hard because I was on a level here, and most of them would be down here. It would be boring mostly.”

To mitigate these growing frustrations, Kendra’s father looked to deliver a glaring, yet necessary, wake-up call to her daughter.

“Her attitude, she was so competitive, just kind of a mean kid, I hate to say that,” Greg Parra said. “I remember telling her one time, ‘When you grow up, I don’t think you are going to have any friends. You are just so mean.’ That was always my concern, just that mentality.”

Kendra’s overly-intense personality would also negatively affect her development as a basketball player, as she would often scoff at her father’s advice.

“We were the same person, we always just collided,” Parra said. “He would try and fix my shot, and I would be like, ‘No, I’m not doing that.’”

With her fervent mentality putting relationships and her growth as a basketball player at risk, Kendra looked to change at Del Norte High School, a Class 2A Public School with only 33 students in her graduating class.

After starting for the Gilbert-Sanchez-coached Tigers during her first two high school seasons, the young teenager made a stark shift in thinking during her junior season when she welcomed, and embraced tips from a familiar face.

“She was more open to me taking her to the gym,” Greg Parra said. “I was coaching junior high, so we constantly hit the school, I brought keys to the school. She would say, ‘Hey, get me in the gym, get me in the gym!’”

This growing acceptance of her father’s teachings would pay dividends for Kendra, allowing her to improve her game - mostly with her shooting. “We worked a lot on shooting on the dribble, shooting on the run, moving instead of just being a set shooter, working on arc,” Greg Parra said. “By the time she was a junior, she would take what I gave her and try to apply that.”

With a more open-minded mindset, Kendra Parra set out for greatness in her final high school season.

In order to accomplish that, however, the senior phenom needed to grow once again.

This time, she would need to become a better leader for her team.

Working to help her accomplish that? Who else, but her father, who had joined the girls’ varsity staff as an assistant coach during Kendra’s senior season.

“Her senior year, when I was on the bench, I was just talking [with her] about her attitude and working as a team,” Greg Parra said. “I know there was a lot of frustration with her teammates at times. But I [told her], ‘Hey, you have to build them up, you can’t constantly criticize them and tear them down. Because when you are going to need them, they’re not going to be there for you, they are going to be scared.”

As an emerging leader on the team, Kendra experienced a spectacular senior season, culminating in what she calls her greatest athletic achievement.

In her COVID-19 shortened season, Parra exploded for the Tigers, taking home the Colorado Class 2A Player of the Year award after averaging 21.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3 assists and 4.5 steals.

Parra’s senior year honors put a cap on the Del Norte native’s historic high school basketball career. As a four-year starter with the Gilbert Sanchez-coached Tigers, Parra rewrote the program’s history books by scoring 1,949 points, 13th most in the history of Colorado high school girls’ basketball. These stats allowed her to earn two all-state first-team selections and three Southern Peaks League MVPs.

Perhaps most important for Kendra, however, was the positive relationship she cultivated with her teammates throughout the season, something her father stated marked a significant character growth for her daughter.

“She was constantly trying to raise the level of her team, and they loved her,” Greg Parra said. “Her teammates really did love her.” “She matured, she grew up. And is a really good kid now.”

Parra’s Path to Collegiate Stardom

With a newly-cemented mindset and a historic high school career now behind her, Parra sought additional dominance on the hardwood - this time at the collegiate level.

For her to get there, however, Kendra encountered yet another hurdle.

Despite her high school achievements, Parra received little attention from schools she reached out to - most notably Fort Lewis College and Western Colorado. According to her father, this lack of attention was mostly due to the small stature of her high school.

However, after winning the MVP award at a Colorado high school all-star game called “The Show” in March 2019, things started to turn in the former Del Norte High School star’s favor.

While playing in the tournament - located in Denver - Parra caught the eye of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Tanya Haave, who played under former Tennessee head coach Pat Summit and finished her Lady Vols career as the program’s all-time scoring leader with 1,771 points.

Haave, who also spent 14 years playing professionally in Australia and Europe, said she did not actively recruit Parra until well after the all-star game in April 2020, when the team developed a need for a new guard. This prompted her to seek out film of Parra’s high school games, and talk to her over the phone.

Haave said she was impressed by the then-senior’s skill and patience while watching her film, but what cemented her scholarship was hearing her high school coach, Sanchez, describe her unwavering will to succeed.

“Her high school coach said she is just competitive,” Haave said. “She played football with boys, played baseball with boys. At that point, I was sold on her. And I had only watched her play once, and we spent all of a half-hour recruiting her. So I said. ‘If I offer you a scholarship, are you going to come?’. [And she said] ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘I’m offering you a scholarship.’ [She said], ‘I’m coming.’”

Photo by Darral Freund

Parra’s ‘Rocky Mountain High’ of a Start at MSU Denver

After securing a spot on Tanya Haave’s Roadrunners, Parra set out for basketball success at MSU Denver with a subdued, yet still highly ambitious, persona.

Although the then-freshman would enter campus with a focused mindset, she received a wake-up call when she encountered the sheer talent and size of her teammates, something the former Tiger had not been used to while playing at Class 2A Del Norte High School.

This, according to Parra, would force her to increase her effort and, once again, tone down her over-competitiveness.

“I was very humbled,” Parra said. “The pace, the players were good, my coach, where she came from and who she is. [I had to] have a different little mindset, just working harder. I don’t really shove my accomplishments into the faces of people like that.”

Despite the culture shock, Parra’s newfound focus yielded immediate results.

In her MSU Denver debut against Regis, Parra scored 20 points, tying the most by any player in a debut in program history.

Kendra’s sparkling start to the season would springboard her to a successful freshman campaign, where in just 15 games played, the guard averaged 8.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists a contest. This stat line earned her yet another accolade, this time winning a share of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year award.

Although humbled at first, Kendra’s fast start to her freshman campaign was a rare occurrence. According to her coach, few freshmen can come in and acclimate to the speed and skill level of collegiate athletics.

“Her transition, there were a few bumps, but it wasn’t a typical transition,” Haave said. “She picked up on the intensity and the speed of the game really quickly. For her to come from a 2A school and almost seamlessly make that big transition to Division-II basketball at that intensity level was pretty remarkable.”

Cover photo and this photo by Edward Jacobs, Jr.

Parra’s Roadrunner Encore

Coming off a successful freshman campaign, Parra looked to add to her history of athletic success in year two with Haave’s program.

Starting 27 of 30 games for the Roadrunners, Parra continued to shine with MSU Denver, averaging 8.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists a contest.

Although Parra’s numbers took a slight dip in her sophomore season, she conquered a team goal that would mean far more to her, capturing an RMAC conference tournament championship over CSU Pueblo on March 5, the program’s first conference tournament crown since 2005.

Recording nine points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal in the Roadrunners’ 76-68 victory, Parra said the championship was among her favorite moments of the 2021-22 season. For Parra, the win turned even sweeter when she locked eyes with the man who had helped her grow along the way - her father, who swelled with pride and joy.

“I just watched her jump around and hug her teammates,” Greg Parra said. “Once that subsided, I started walking towards her and she saw me, and she came and jumped into my arms. I kind of lifted her up from the back of her hamstrings and just held her up. We took a selfie with the trophy. It was just a really cool moment to share with her. I was super happy for her.”

Parra’s quick two-year ascension from a “humbled” freshman to an already highly-decorated sophomore did not come randomly.

According to her coach, Parra figured out the ability to subdue, yet not entirely get rid of, her competitiveness. This balance was resolved and discussed during a passionate team meeting her sophomore year, a resolution that Haave said exemplified Parra’s impressive mental toughness.

“She gets so hyped up, and she’ll say something that she doesn’t mean in the heat of the moment,” Haave said. “Her teammates, they misunderstand her at times. So, I had to, in front of the team, kind of pull her back. I ripped her pretty hard in front of the group. And not many now can take that. She came back that week and had a great weekend. Her mental toughness is off the charts.”

“She needed just a reminder of being a better teammate,” Haave said. “And she did it, without losing who she was. I was so proud of her for that. I don’t think she’s mad at me anymore.

Photo by Edward Jacobs, Jr.

Kendra’s Life Off the Court

As Parra enters her final three years with the Roadrunners, the competitive edge that used to succeed, and now has tweaked, remains intact.

On the court, Parra said she “just wants to win rings,” and even make a run at an NCAA championship. Off the court, she battles with her teammates, challenging them to intense bouts in board games and ‘Wii Sports’ matches.

However, as fiery as she may seem, Parra said that she also carries a softer side.

“I’m a good person outside of sports,” Parra admitted.

When the 21-year-old is not dominating her opponents on the hardwood, Parra said she participates in what she calls “love language quality time,” which consists of hanging out with friends and making those around her laugh.

Parra also spends this time with her MSU Denver teammates, where they bond during “Wii Night" - devoted to contentious contest in Wii sports games such as boxing, tennis and bowling.

Outside of the time spent with her friends, family and teammates, Kendra also exhibits her loving personality through her career choice.

Following in the footsteps of her “saving grace” mother, Debbie, a women’s health care nurse practitioner whom Kendra says has a “good soul,” Parra hopes to become an overseas travel nurse while also playing basketball, specializing in delivery nursing.

While Kendra Parra enters her third year with the MSU Denver women’s basketball program as an already successful, humble and warm-hearted student-athlete, many people around her know these accomplishments have not come easy.

For Greg Parra, the man who once feared her daughter would damage friendships if she refused to change, he now raves at the kind - yet still relentlessly competitive - young woman her daughter has blossomed into.

“She’s really grown into a compassionate person,” Greg Parra said. “She’s helpful, she doesn’t complain about things that she used to complain about. She sees the good things in life. She’s just a really cool kid. If I was someone her age, I would love to hang around her. I love being around her now, as a parent.”

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