Dec. 4—SOUTHERN PINES — KeKe Lawrence had a solid high-school career as a three-sport athlete at Lumberton, but went to play volleyball at Sandhills Community College without much attention.
A few months later, she's an All-American.
Lawrence earned second-team honors on the National Junior College Athletic Association's Division-III All-America team.
"I put in the work, but that was never on my mind all the time; that was my goal, but actually getting it was shocking, surprising," Lawrence said. "I was excited for myself because I felt like I did put in a lot of work to get to where I was going."
Lawrence ranked eighth nationally in NJCAA Division III with 78 blocks, fourth nationally with 69 solo blocks and 22nd nationally with 0.83 blocks per set. She also had 185 kills for the season, with 1.97 per set.
This marks the fifth straight season Sandhills has had an All-American volleyball player. Lawrence was also named Player of the Year for Region 10, and was named the national Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 23.
"One of my favorite things about KeKe is when she received Player of the Year, when I call to tell her she's an All-American, it's not an expectation for her, which I think is so humbling and she's still trying to wrap her head around," Sandhills coach Alicia Riggan said. "She's just a player on the rise; it came a little bit faster than anybody expected."
Lawrence also played basketball and ran track in high school, and has worn jersey No. 10 since her freshman year at Lumberton to honor former Pirates athlete London Thompson, who she says she looked up to as a multi-sport star.
After arriving at Sandhills, Lawrence says the specialized coaching the program offered for her position is part of the reason she was able to take the strides she has this season.
"She's taught me how my footwork needed to be, how my approach needed to be, timing-wise," Lawrence said. "Once I figured out my timing, it was just on fire. I knew once I got my perfect pass from my defensive specialist in the background and got that timing down pat, it was just kill after kill after kill."
"She's got a lot of athleticism, and you can't teach that; we're just fixing the rawness, and that's the type of players that we get, they're raw," Riggan said. "She peaked right when she needed to peak. She was a big force for us on the front line with her blocks."
Before she caught fire, though, the start of the season was, in her words, "rocky."
"We had our postseason evaluation after the season, and I was like 'KeKe, did you ever expect this to be your freshman season,'" Riggan said. "And she was like, 'coach I came in and I was scared to death during the preseason. It was so fast, and the teammates, and everybody's good. I'm just competitive and I knew I needed to work twice as hard as everybody else.' ... That's the beauty of our job and what keeps us going is to see from day one to right now, her being an All-American."
By the end of the season, Lawrence was the player attracting the attention on a team that won the Region 10 Tournament championship after a 9-0 run through conference play, with a 20-7 overall record. Purnell Swett's Kaitlyn Locklear, Mackenzie Swett and Madison Harris and St. Pauls' Savanna Lowery were also part of the Flyers' team this season.
Lawrence has one year of eligibility remaining at the junior-college level, but is also looking to transfer after her sophomore season to a four-year program; she says she most wants to play for either North Carolina Central or Fayetteville State.
"After my next year at Sandhills I do want to transfer and to continue playing volleyball," Lawrence said. I'm trying to work hard so I can get those two coaches to look at me."
But for now, Lawrence continues her hard work in preparation for her second season at Sandhills as she celebrates everything she's accomplished in year one.
"It was just amazing, because I knew I was good when I was in high school," Lawrence said. "But to get All-American in my freshman year in college is like a dream come true."
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.