Brookings Register’s Volleyball Player of the Year: Volleyball comes naturally to Lee
COLMAN – It was the fifth set at the state tournament and Colman-Egan was in trouble.
The Hawks had dropped their first game of the tournament to Castlewood and were aiming to make a run in the consolation bracket. After losing the first two sets to Faulkton Area in a consolation semifinal, the Hawks stormed back to force a fifth set. But C-E was down 14-10 and some fans were bracing for the end.
For some players, a situation like that can bring a lot of pressure. But for Daniela Lee, it was a situation that just came naturally to her.
“I’ve never been a person to get super nervous and fall under pressure,” Lee said. “I always try to block out the pressure because a comeback story is always a good time. I just said there’s nothing to lose here, so we might as well just see what we can do.”
Lee’s serve helped the Hawks begin a rally that helped C-E defeat Faulkton in five sets and go on to win the consolation title the following afternoon. It was just one of the areas where Lee has thrived during her career and why she is our choice for the 2023 Brookings Register Volleyball Player of the Year.
Lee’s talent was on display from an early age, starting volleyball in the third grade. When the fourth-grade team needed an extra member, Lee grabbed a friend to try out and wound up making the team.
Lee began her career as a middle hitter but started to find her way all over the court. Her versatility made her a valuable weapon entering high school and her athleticism helped her make the varsity team during her freshman year.
“It’s just always come kind of naturally to her,” C-E volleyball coach Abigail Dockter said. “Ever since she was young…just the simplest things like passing or setting the ball. She’s the type of player that can play any position.”
Lee’s talent gave the Hawks a good problem to have when they tried to find a position. They initially used her as a setter but then she was moved to hitter. When the Hawks needed a back-row specialist, Lee was the player to fill that void.
Lee’s versatility was key to the Hawks’ success as they made the state tournament in all four years at the varsity level including a fourth-place finish in 2020, a Class B runner-up in 2021, a seventh-place finish in 2022 and a fifth-place finish this season.
Over the past two seasons, C-E went 54-17 and had a 30-6 record this fall. Lee was a big part of the Hawks’ run to state this season, recording 361 kills, a 23.7% kill percentage, 555 digs, 84 blocks, 31 aces and a 92.1% serve percentage.
While Lee racked up the accolades, her biggest accomplishment may have been as a leader. Lee considers herself to be a natural-born leader but Dockter believes she found a bigger voice this season.
“She’s always been a great leader but she just wasn’t a vocal leader those first couple of years because we had some stronger girls above her,” Dockter said. “This year, she really stepped up and kept the girls together with that high energy and her desire to win. It really just fed off onto them.”
Lee credits part of her voice to playing with many of her friends that she grew up with.
“It wasn’t anything new but it was just finding my ground with all of my teammates,” Lee said. “I didn’t want to be the kind of leader that’s just throwing criticism around and everything, it was making sure that everyone has a voice and everyone understands that they are an important part of the team. We needed every single individual to be working their hardest and striving our best to make this team successful.”
For Lee’s part, she was the player who wanted those big moments. While the pressure gets to some, Lee embraces it and credits her coaches both in volleyball and track for developing that mindset.
“I love this sport but with both of my coaches for track and volleyball, they always tried to give me a mindset that you have to try your best and strive to be the hardest worker on the team,” Lee said. “It’s about being a leader for everything. …This year, I really had to step it up because we lost a lot of seniors and being a senior, it was just nice getting to lead the team.”
Lee finishes her career with 806 kills, 94 assists, 285 blocks, 1,501 digs and 88 aces. While Lee is focused on her track career, her graduation will leave a hole in the C-E lineup next fall. But it will be more than just her stats that will be missed because of the energy she brings every day.
“When she has that high energy, she’s so much fun to be around,” Dockter said. “She’s such a positive light to have on the court and it’s so much fun to watch her get excited with her teammates and kind of keep her teammates boosted up. She’s very coachable. She’s always willing to try and play any position for the better and she does whatever it takes for us to be successful.”