Taking the reins of a sub-.500 team in one of the strongest regions in the nation would be a daunting task for anyone, especially someone making her debut as a head coach.
Fortunately for Lee College volleyball coach Danielle Essix, nine of the 12 players who will take the court for the Rebels in 2018 are returning sophomores. And Essix, a former assistant at Blinn College, is more than familiar with the NJCAA’s Region 14.
“I’m still learning about Lee College, but this is my third year in the region,” Essix said. “I know what it takes to compete in Region 14.”
In Essix’s two seasons as an assistant coach, Blinn’s volleyball team compiled a 42-31 record. The Buccaneers went 24-9 during the 2017 season, which included a 9-1 record against their Region 14 South Zone opponents.
Meanwhile, she inherits a Lee College squad looking to improve upon its 11-19 record from 2017. With returning players making up three-quarters of the team’s eligible roster this season, Essix believes an improved record is a reachable goal.
“The goal is to take a step forward,” Essix said. “You want them to build upon their experience gained as freshmen.”
Though Region 14 lost longtime Lee College rival and perennial power San Jacinto College, which shuttered its volleyball program, the league is still a haven for top talent and nationally competitive teams. Both Tyler Junior College and Panola College ranked among the nation’s Top 10 teams in NJCAA Division I volleyball at the end of 2017.
“There are really good athletes – [NCAA] Division I-caliber athletes – in our league,” Essix said. “I believe this is one of the tougher regions in the nation.”
Tasked with leading the Rebels are frontline players Miriam Stingl and Kalani Ketchens. Stingl, a native of Vienna, Austria, led the Rebels with 269 kills for an average of 2.51 kills per set in 2017.
Ketchens, an alumna of Brennan High School in San Antonio, averaged 2.21 kills per set, and ranked second on the team with 245 total kills.
Brooke Davidson, a 6-foot-0 middle blocker, tallied a hitting percentage of .190, which led Lee’s frontline players. An alumna of Clear Springs High School in League City, Davidson averaged 0.56 blocks per set, an average that led Lee’s returning players.
Puerto Rico native and setter Deyaneira Gomez Salgado led the Rebels with 4.08 assists per contest (457 total), and Emalee Lowe of Midlothian, Texas, led the team with 413 digs, an average of 4.26 digs per set.
In addition to the talent returning to the court for the Rebels this season, three freshmen will suit up this season. Two additional freshmen, who transferred from NCAA Division I programs, will practice with the Rebels, but will not be eligible to play in competitive intercollegiate contests in 2018.
“I am really excited for our upcoming season, and I’m excited to be a Lady Rebel,” Essix said. “I look forward to being a part of the community, having a good fan base, and winning some volleyball games.”