September 23, 2014

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High school volleyball: EC’s Lee expects bigger things this season

Elyria Catholic sophomore Jessie Lee decided to get in better shape, get stronger and fly higher ... all after being named the district MVP last year. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Elyria Catholic sophomore Jessie Lee decided to get in better shape, get stronger and fly higher … all after being named the district MVP last year. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

It would be so easy for Elyria Catholic’s Jessie Lee to rest on her laurels after earning an All-Conference first team award along with being named the MVP of Lorain County and the district for the 18-7 Panthers last season.

Even after putting together a wildly successful freshman year, Lee came to the decision that in order to chase her dream of playing big-time college volleyball and to improve as a player at EC, she needed to change just about everything about herself.

With the help of her mother, Jen Lee — a certified trainer and head coach of the EC volleyball team — she changed her diet and started an exercise routine that helped her drop 17 pounds, add muscle and got her feeling much better about where her volleyball career is headed.

“Jess took the summer and went to the AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association) combine where they do physical testing on you,” Jen Lee said. “Twelve weeks prior, she came to me and asked me to get her ready for the combine. I set out her food plan and told her I would train her, but she was the one that had to stick to the plan and do all the hard work to get ready.”

The transformation for Jess was stunning as she dropped the weight, added 5 pounds of muscle and increased her vertical jump by 4 inches from last year.

The changes helped her finish in the top 20 percent at the AVCA combine, earning her a spot in the showcase before the NCAA Final Four in Oklahoma City.

With her sights set on playing college volleyball, Jessie has a local role model to look up to for inspiration.

All you had to do was watch the NCAA Final Four this year to see Amherst’s 5-foot-7 Deme Morales (2011 graduate) playing for the University of Wisconsin to see the person that inspired Lee to make changes.

Like Morales, Lee isn’t the tallest person on the court at 5-11, so she knew she needed to find a different physical advantage over her opponents.

“Playing in JO (Junior Olympic) volleyball tournaments, you could easily be standing across the net from someone from Texas who is 6-foot-4 and can jump out of the gym,” Lee said. “I’m not the tallest player out there, so I knew I had to find a way to get my vertical up so I could compete against someone that big.

“After seeing (Morales) on TV, I knew that’s what I wanted to be. My mom has talked to her coach (Laurie Cogan at Amherst) and we learned that Deme never ate bad, she ate clean and always worked out. It motivated me to be more like her.”

The journey to Lee’s transformation was not an easy one and she’d be the first to admit it was no fun in the beginning.

“I was so crabby when I first started training and eating better, but I got used to everything and after a few weeks I really started feeling the difference,” she said. “Now it seems like I don’t even get sore or tired after a workout. It’s been amazing.”

The coach in Jen Lee is thrilled to see one of her players working so hard to become a better player. The mother in Jen Lee is proud of her daughter, who still has three seasons of Elyria Catholic volleyball in front of her.

“Jess never bit the hook and got into what I do working with people (physical training),” Lee said. “She decided to transform herself and became a very strong girl. I’m excited to see where this takes her both on and off the court.”

Jess Lee wasn’t supposed to play much last year, but when Maryssa Kellick went down with a foot injury early in the year against Clearview she had to step into some big shoes and performed well past everyone’s expectations.

“Sometimes I don’t even feel like last year was real,” Lee said. “I look back and think about how crazy it was that I accomplished all of those things. I was surrounded by a great team and I’m just glad I was able to do a lot to help.”

The changes in Lee have even inspired current teammates to get involved in some of the training.

If the healthy diet and physical training catches on with everyone at Elyria Catholic, who knows where Lee and the rest of the Panthers could end up at in years to come?

Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.

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