SPECIAL FEATURE (Aug. 6, 2013 ) – Many people can remember their parents or teachers in grade school telling them: "You can do anything you want to do as long as you study hard, get your degree and stay out of trouble." For five student-athletes at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU), they did just that, and their hard work has paid off.
Kelsey Johnson, Maricela Madrigal, Danielle Otero and Jessica Ramirez were part of the inaugural volleyball team that kicked off athletics at OLLU in 2007. The volleyball team was the first in school history to compete in intercollegiate athletics. Johnson and Madrigal were a freshman, while Otero and Ramirez were both transfer students. Jennifer Herrera joined the team the following year, in 2008, as a freshman. All five went on to earn their degrees at OLLU and are now coaching the sport they loved.
Mark Lee, the Saints first and only coach, is proud of the women for pursuing their dreams, but he expects them to send him great recruits.
"I think it is awesome that they are moving on to teach and coach," Lee said. "Hopefully they will send me their best players in the future."
Ramirez is a native of Laredo, Texas, where she graduated from J.W. Nixon High School in 2004. She transferred to OLLU in 2007 after attending Western New Mexico University and Texas A&M International University.
Ramirez played two years for the Saints in 38 matches. She accumulated 275 kills, 206 digs and 33 blocks as an outside hitter. She received her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 2009.
She moved back home to Laredo upon graduation and coached various volleyball camps throughout Texas. For the last two years, Ramirez has been the assistant coach for United South High School in Laredo, and this summer, she was named head coach for the St. Augustine High School volleyball team, also in Laredo. There, she also will teach math.
"To become a head coach is exciting, and my goal is to rebuild the program." Ramirez explained. "It is an awesome opportunity to do something for my hometown that's always been there for me. This is my chance to give something back."
The program at the Catholic school has had trouble finding success, but this is something that does not scare Ramirez. "I see that as my opportunity and a test for me as a coach," Ramirez replied. "This is definitely a good motivation for me to turn things around."
When Ramirez is not coaching or teaching, she spends her time with her three-year-old daughter. She plans to send her to OLLU so she can play for the Saints when the time comes.
Danielle Otero is shown
coaching a club team.
Otero is a San Antonio native and a graduate of Incarnate Word High School. She played two years at Laredo Community College before transferring to OLLU, when the program started in 2007. She spent three years as a Saint, but had to sit out one season with an injury. During the two seasons, she played 44 matches, accumulating 155 assists and 242 digs. In 2010, Otero received a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology.
Otero has been coaching club volleyball for the past seven years. She was also the junior varsity coach for San Antonio's Holy Cross High School during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. In 2012, Otero returned to OLLU as an assistant coach under Lee.
This month, Otero starts her head-coaching job at John Paul II Catholic High School, a member of TAPPS 2A District, in New Braunfels, Texas. At John Paul, Otero also will be the office assistant.
As the season gets closer, Otero is getting set to hold tryouts for the upcoming season. The tryouts will consist of practices focused on fundamentals, as well as learning what it means to truly come together and become one as a team.
"A variety of team-building drills will hopefully get the girls to that point, and once that happens, there is no doubt in my mind that we will be successful," expressed Otero.
According to Otero, her time at OLLU gave her the confidence to go out and find out what she wanted to be, and where it was in life she wanted to go.
At OLLU, Otero also met the love of her life, and she is now engaged to OLLU alumnus Chuy Gonzalez, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History. The couple met through the University's Campus Recreation department, where they both were work-study students. They plan to be married Nov. 30, at the place where it all started. "I couldn't be more excited to be marrying my best friend and at OLLU of all places, a place that has given us life-long memories," Otero concluded.
Maricela Madrigal talked to a
reporter before the Saints' first-ever
game in 2007.
Madrigal is a San Antonio native and a graduate of Harlandale High School. As a setter and defensive specialist, Madrigal set a Saints' record for the most assists.in a single match. During the match against the University of the Southwest on Sept. 17, 2007, she accumulated 51 assists, a record that still holds today.
Madrigal earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2011, and she is currently pursuing a master's degree in Educational Administration from Texas A&M University -- San Antonio. For the past two years, she has taught 8th grade English and coached volleyball, basketball and track at Harlandale Middle School. She has moved on to Harlandale High School, where she is coaching the freshman volleyball B team, junior varsity and varsity track. She will also teach English 3.
"OLLU athletics prepared me for coaching by teaching me the importance of dedication and team work," Madrigal explained. "OLLU also prepared me for the classroom because the university genuinely cared for my future and instilled in me a passion and heart for children -- both vital to being an educator in the classroom and on the court."
Kelsey Johnson is shown on far left with her team.
Johnson, a native of Adkins, Texas, a small town outside of San Antonio, graduated from East Central High School. She was the team captain throughout her career at OLLU, earning all-conference in 2008 and the Champions of Character award in 2010. She was also a scholar athlete, earning a better than 3.0 GPA in each of her four years. Johnson holds several records after playing close to 90 matches with the Saints. She is second all-time in total blocks with 52, and she is first in total blocks in one match with nine.
Johnson not only received her degree in marketing in 2011, she also met her future fiancé Jonathon Hurt at OLLU, while he was an assistant coach for the men's basketball team. After graduating, the couple moved to Oklahoma when Hurt took a job as a head coach for a high school basketball team. Johnson worked for Grainger, then was hired by Kellogg & Sovereign Consulting in Ada, Okla. But, her passion has always been volleyball.
Kelsey Johnson is pictured with her assistant coaches.
"Playing volleyball throughout college under Coach Lee made me interested in coaching," Johnson explained. "I couldn't see myself doing anything else. It is my passion and I couldn't go a day without it."
Johnson previously assisted in coaching at La Vernia Volleyball Club in San Antonio. This July, she started her tenure at Shawnee High School, in Shawnee, Okla., as a teacher of financial literacy and head coach of the girls' volleyball team.
She just wrapped up her first tryouts as a head coach and she describes her team as one with a lot of potential and talent. To achieve her goal of becoming state champions, Johnson will adopt several things she learned from Lee.
"Coach Lee's coaching philosophy has really taught me that volleyball teaches you lifelong lessons, and I want to teach my players that now so when they go out in the real world, they will be prepared," Johnson stated.
As for her plans on a personal level, she and Hurt are shooting for a summer 2014 wedding date. In the meantime, Hurt continues to lead the Vanoss Public School boy's basketball team in Vanoss, Okla.
Jennifer Herrera led the team in total blocks in four seasons.
Herrera is a native of La Vernia, Texas, where she graduated from La Vernia High School. She became a member of the Saints volleyball team in 2008 and played four years in 101 matches – a school record she holds with two other former players.
While playing at OLLU, Herrera received the Champions of Character award in 2011 and was a scholar athlete, earning a better than 3.0 GPA all four years. She holds the career total blocks record with 136. In May 2012, Herrera received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Disorders.
Herrera will be the head coach for the junior varsity volleyball team as well as assist the varsity volleyball team at Hondo High School, a 3A school in Hondo, Texas. When she is not coaching, she will be the speech therapist assistant at Meyer Elementary in Hondo, where she will be working with children who have speech and communication disorders.
Jennifer Herrera is shown with her family,
coaches, and Coach Mark Lee during
her signing ceremony in 2008.
As the start of the season is getting closer, Herrera is preparing to hold a camp for incoming and returning players. She also plans to consult with the freshman and head varsity coach for the upcoming season.
Herrera says OLLU taught her to be prepared for anything in life, and that Coach Lee taught her the importance of working as a team.
"Many of the things that I have learned from Coach Lee, I will take into coaching my team," Herrera said.
Herrera says that her two loves in life are volleyball and helping children with speech disorders. "I am ready to take on the challenge and for the upcoming season."
Herrera, just like Ramirez, Otero and Johnson, are living out their dreams, after succeeding on the court and in the classroom at OLLU. The University is proud of their achievements.
Coach Lee saw the coaching potential in all four of them while they played for him. "All have the love of the game that probably will keep them in touch with volleyball for the rest of their lives," he concluded.
The NAIA Champions of Character program aims to instill five core values in NAIA athletes, coaches: respect, responsibility, integrity, servant leadership, and sportsmanship. Our Lady of the Lake University shares and supports these values and strives to promote the Champions of Character program by working with students, coaches through our Champions of Character educational program. For more information on the Champions of Character program, click here: www.championsofcharacter.org.
Luis A. Lárraga
Sports Information Assistant