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

BRANFORD — The goal, from the second time Lachelle Sikes played volleyball, was to play in college.

That was in the third grade when her mother Mendy, who is now her volleyball coach at Branford High, wanted to expose her to other sports and began taking Sikes to Hot Springs to play on a recreational team.

But it wasn’t love at first sight.

“I didn’t want to play volleyball,” Lachelle Sikes said of that first experience. “I hated it.”

That changed quickly, and she has loved it since.

And that goal of playing college volleyball is getting closer to reality as she has committed to the University of North Florida.

The Ospreys are a Division 1 school with an indoor team and a beach volleyball team.

Sikes played recreational volleyball while she was in the fourth and fifth grade’s and began her time at Branford on the middle school team and playing or practicing six days a week.

After one year of junior varsity she moved on to varsity and has started all four years.

“I remember starting varsity in the ninth grade,” Sikes said. “There were girls a lot better than I was, captains (of the team) that I looked up to and were my role models.

“And as I got older I wanted to be a role model for the other kids.”

Mendy Sikes said that, since the sixth grade, “Lachelle’s excitement hasn’t changed when she gets an ace or a kill.”

During the last three offseasons, Sikes has played for the Gainesville Juniors National Team, which is a highly regarded club travel team. She has played with the 17 Elite Black Team, and she’s planning for a fourth straight season this year.

“I wanted to take volleyball seriously and wanted to join a travel team, so I tried out for the team,” she said. “I tried out for the team and made the team and playing there has tremendously changed my game. It was a major shock on how fast the play was and how strict the coaches were.

“But I soon began to really like it.”

At Branford, Sikes is a team captain, and has been voted most athletic female at the school.

She describes herself as “extremely competitive and plays aggressively,” and has broken her ankle two times playing volleyball.

That’s where Branford athletic trainer and assistant coach Erin Clark comes in.

“She’s had plenty of twisted ankles also,” Clark said. “She’s a vocal leader of the team and knows the game.”

“It’s competitiveness,” Sikes said that can lead to injuries, adding that her health is good now.

“I live in Erin’s athletic training room.”

Against Dixie County last week, Sikes appeared sharp after missing some time recently with injuries while also playing a new position in Branford winning 3-0.

“Her foot is a little bit more healed, and she’s learning to be an outside hitter; she’s never played that before,” Mendy Sikes said. “We changed up our offense up a little bit tonight and had more right-side hits than we’ve ever had to try and confuse the middle blocker to where we were going.”

Lachelle Sikes and outside hitter Cera McElreath led Branford with 13 kills and 8 digs each. Branford libero Adrianna Saavedra started the scoring with an ace and had a one-handed return.

Mendy Sikes said this is Saavedra’s first year playing libero and has been playing very well.

As have the Bucs as a whole, as Branford is 13-3 after falling to Union County 3-0 (17-25, 26-28, 22-25) last week.

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

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