Former East star to finish volleyball career in NCAA Division II Tournament

Columbus East graduate and New Haven senior Rilee Jessee serves against St Michaels Nov. 11 in Charger Gymnasium in West Haven, Connecticut.

Photo courtesy of New Haven Athletics

Rilee Jessee’s path to a pair of NCAA Division II volleyball tournament appearances took a little different trajectory than originally intended.

The 2020 Columbus East graduate had committed to Felician University in Lodi, New Jersey, before the COVID pandemic and before she left to go there, found out that there wouldn’t be scholarship money available for her. So she headed to New Haven (Connecticut).

Jessee’s senior year and career will end sometime in the next two weekends. Her New Haven team opens NCAA Division II Tournament play at Noon Thursday against Mercy in Garden City, New York.

“I absolutely love the east coast,” Jessee said. “I had talked to the (New Haven) coach a little bit before I had committed to Felician. I knew that I wanted to go to the east coast. I wanted to travel a little bit and see different things, so this is where I ended up.”

When she’s not playing volleyball, Jessee and her friends sometimes travel to nearby New York City.

“It’s been such a fun experience,” Jessee said. “I’ve gotten to see so many things that you don’t get to see in Indiana. I’m definitely glad I ended up here at New Haven. I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends.”

Columbus East graduate and New Haven senior Rilee Jessee makes a dig against Molloy Oct. 19 in Charger Charger Gymnasium in West Haven, Connecticut.

Photo courtesy of New Haven Athletics

Besides switching from her original college choice, Jessee also has undergone a position switch. An outside hitter in high school, she moved to libero and has been the Chargers starting libero for three years. She leads this year’s team with 466 digs and 48 service aces.

“When I came to New Haven, we had pretty good outsides,” said the 5-foot-10 Jessee. “I was completely content playing libero. I’m pretty short for a Division II outside. I had played outside at my club and East, so libero was pretty new. I had always played back row, but never libero. They told me they wanted me to be on the court, and I could play some defense. So I definitely think it turned out for the best.”

Jessee’s college career essentially has been limited to three seasons after her freshman year in 2020 was wiped out by the COVID pandemic.

“We still practiced in the fall,” Jessee said. “In the spring of 2021, we did more team stuff, and we got to scrimmage, but that was the extent of it. Lifting and conditioning was never an issue. Our weight room is pretty big, so we were pretty spread out.”

The next year, Jessee helped lead New Haven to an NCAA Division II Tournament berth. After not making it last year, the Chargers won this year’s Northeast-10 Conference tournament and are the No. 2 seed in the East Region behind host Adelphi, a team they beat in four sets in the conference final.

The winner of the eight-team regional, which concludes on Saturday, advances to the NCAA Division II Final Eight Dec. 7-9 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.

“We have very high hopes,” Jessee said. “We have a great staff. Our head coach is very good. We have a great group of girls. We have some talented freshmen. Our setter is a fifth-year setter, and our outside has played three seasons like me. We’re going to be a tough team to beat in the tournament.”

Rilee Jessee

Because of the COVID year in 2020, Jessee would have the opportunity to play another year if she wanted. But she plans to graduate in May with a degree in health sciences and a concentration in pre-med and plans to take MCAT in April and apply to medical schools in May.

While she has enjoyed her time on the east coast, Jessee is hoping to return to the midwest.

“I want to take the next steps and apply to medical school, and my body cannot take another year of playing college volleyball,” Jessee said. “I’m getting old.”