In conversations, sometimes Dina Graves refers to The Woodlands girls soccer program as her first born.
Graves became the head coach of the Lady Highlanders team in 1994, well before getting married to her husband Shane and having their three children — Peyton, Rylie and Bryce.
“It was a very young program when I got here,” Graves said. “It had just been around for two years. So it really is my baby. Then I got married and had my children after coaching for many years.”
After 30 years in coaching overall, 27 of which were at the helm at The Woodlands, Graves is hanging up her whistle.
A new opportunity in the Conroe ISD athletic department is pulling her off the field as she departs from her job as head girls soccer coach, assistant campus athletic coordinator and teacher.
Taking over will be Frankie Whitlock, who has served as Graves’ first assistant for the past three seasons. Whitlock came to The Woodlands after a decorated career coaching in the San Antonio area.
“It was a huge priority to get it in good hands,” Graves said.
Graves led The Woodlands to the state tournament three times, including one state championship in 2010. The Lady Highlanders made it back to state for the first time in 11 seasons this past spring before falling to Flower Mound Marcus in a neutral site state semifinal game played in Belton.
“It was incredible and more so for the girls,” Graves said of the 2021 season. “Having such a crazy year the year before and not being able to pursue the rest of the season...I wanted this for the kids more than anything else.”
Graves started her coaching career at Spring Westfield prior to her tenure at The Woodlands. In total, her record is 566-124-57. At The Woodlands, she was 477-92-50 with over 20 district titles won.
Graves will be inducted into the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches hall of honor this November.
Coaching is a passion for Graves. But in recent years, she started thinking about what’s next.
Three years ago, Graves had a meeting with Conroe ISD athletic director Danny Long that changed her path. She knew she didn’t want to become a principal or a counselor after she was finished coaching soccer. The meeting set in motion what was next in her career.
“I knew I just wanted to stay in the athletic world,” Graves explained. “I visited with Coach Long about three years ago about my aspirations and I knew that I needed to go back to school to get my masters. At 50, I went back to school and got my masters in athletic administration.”
Graves completed her masters this past April from Texas A&M-Commerce.
Last summer, Graves said she was offered a job in athletic administration. But for family reasons and partially due to how the 2020 school year ended, Graves declined the job offer and coached another year at The Woodlands.
“It wasn’t the right time for my family, it wasn’t the right time for Lady Highlanders soccer,” Graves said. “It just didn’t seem like it was right.”
Coming off a season cut short by COVID-19, the Lady Highlanders reeled off 18 wins during the 2021 season. They claimed the District 13-6A championship, won five playoff games and outscored their opponents 83-7. Graves was named the Montgomery County Coach of the Year after the 23-2 season.
“When I walked away from our last game at the state semifinals, I kind of knew in my heart that it very likely was over,” Graves said. “My coaching staff...we had conversations over the past couple years about what was going to happen when it happened. I wanted to make sure that Lady Highlanders soccer was in great hands and the tradition of excellence would move forward.”
The Woodlands made the playoffs 26 times and reached the regional championship six times on Graves’ watch.
The 2009 regional championship won against Cypress Creek was one of the more pivotal moments in Graves’ tenure.
“That moment...standing on the field was just unbelievable for the program to kind of get where it needs to be,” Graves said.
The Lady Highlanders fell to Coppell 1-0 in the state championship that year.
A year later, the Lady Highlanders broke through won their first state championship over McKinney Boyd.
“I’m just incredibly blessed to have such great kids, families, and assistants over the years,” Graves said. “Principals, bosses...everything. My best friends I’ve made there. It’s been a true blessing to be a part of so many girls’ lives. And they made an impact on me and I hope that I made an impact on them.”
Graves’ daughter Rylie will be a junior on the Lady Highlanders soccer team this winter and son Bryce will be a junior on the baseball team, for which her husband Shane is an assistant coach. Her oldest daughter Peyton was the Montgomery County Player of the Year in 2019 and signed with Stephen F. Austin out of high school.
“I was just very thankful this job opened up and I’m able to stay home,” Graves said. “I’m just looking forward to being a mom.”
Graves’ new job title is Athletic Specialist for Conroe ISD. It is a junior high-focused job that helps develop coaches and bridge them to high school.
“I’m super excited about my next chapter,” Graves said.