Lachelle Sikes signing

Branford's Lachelle Sikes signed to play collegiately at the University of North Florida.

BRANFORD, Fla. — Surrounded by family and friends, Lachelle Sikes’ wait came to a close last week.

Sikes, a Branford High volleyball standout, signed her letter-of-intent to play collegiately at the University of North Florida in the BHS auditorium Nov. 13.

“It’s incredible, it’s the day I’ve been waiting for,” Sikes said. “I feel very proud of myself.”

Sikes exits Branford with a regional championship and a prolific 2019 season with 73 aces, 290 kills, 328 receptions, 188 digs and 21 solo blocks. She played varsity for four years, and was a captain of the team.

She was also able to apply herself in academia with a 3.98 GPA and 27 dual enrollment hours and will move to Jacksonville in June to start her college career.

But for now Sikes returns in early December to travel volleyball in Gainesville with the Gainesville Juniors.

“I have to stay in shape and make sure I’m not slacking before I go to college, then I have to get in the weight room and get running, and start a diet plan to get in my best shape before I go,” Sikes said.

After winning regionals, which Branford volleyball had never previously accomplished, the Buccaneers were on top for a week, but lost in the semifinals.

“It was incredible to have the town behind us, supporting us, and they still do, because we made history here at Branford,” Sikes said. “I definitely believe we could have won the game, but it wasn’t meant to be, but I believe we can all grow form it and still be proud of our accomplishments this year.”

In the introductory speech at the signing, BHS football coach Tim Clark noted Sikes’ many awards and said that “to his knowledge,” Sikes is the first athlete from Branford to sign with a Division-I team, but definitely the first volleyball player.

“She’s played for Gainesville Juniors for four years, where she was the Molten tournament champion and the MLK tournament champion,” Clark said, listing her many accomplishments. “She made the UNF camp All-Star Team, was elected to the North Florida All-Star Series team, selected as a Melvin Law scholar-athlete of the week, and featured on TV20. She was team MVP here at BHS for the 2018-2019 season and received the UNF Presidential Scholarship Award.”

Clark called Sikes multifaceted, because she also is the student body vice-president, member of the Beta Club, and on the National Honor Society and FCA.

Clark finished with advice on excelling at the college level.

“My advice is to attack the grind, instead of surviving it,” he said. “And on behalf of the entire Buc family, congratulations and good luck.”

Kristen Wright, the head coach at UNF, spotted Sikes at a volleyball camp at UNF, and became interested.

“It was at team camp over the summer, I went to youth camp and that’s where she saw me play,” Sikes said. “Then I went back for advanced camp and she offered.”

Sikes said she watched the UNF volleyball team play recently, and is aware of and confident about the challenges of moving on to a higher level.

“I watched one of their games last weekend, and they are fun to watch, and they communicate so well,” she said. “I’ll be more motivated because I’ll have more people keeping me in check and there’s a lot more going on; actually I feel I’ll be in a lot better shape and a better player.”

Besides accomplishing the dual goals of a regional championship and a college scholarship she had with her mom and coach, Mendy Sikes, the coach reached her goal early in the season with her 100th win as a coach.

“I’m very proud of her, without her I wouldn’t be where I am,” Lachelle Sikes said.

Added Mendy Sikes: “It’s been a very exciting season; now it’s time to set more goals, which would be to win state, we have a lot of talent moving up, but it’s going to be a change, this will be the first year not coaching my child. It’s going to be very hard, and it’s been an emotional week; this is what she wanted and worked for, but it’s a change for me, and it’s a change for her.

“Every season during club ball Eric Marshall has been her coach, she has experienced someone besides her mom being her coach, and I’ve experienced what’s its like just to be a mom; at Branford it’ll be the first time not coaching her.”

Mendy Sikes is also confident in her daughter’s future, both academically and athletically at North Florida.

“Her dream is to play at the college level, she doesn’t just want to be on the team, she wants to play in college, so I hope that she can stay focused, and accomplish academically as well as athletically,” Mendy Sikes said. “She’s never had a hard time with academics, with a possibility with being salutatorian here. It’s just getting use to living off campus and the pressures on Division 1.

“I worry, I think any mom worries when they go off to college. She’s driven and very determined, she knows that she is representing not just herself but her family and the school. She’s gonna do well.”

Jeff Shourds is a sports writer for the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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