COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: Six Lady Wranglers set to continue careers at four-year level

For Odessa College head volleyball coach Kristi Gray, signing day was a little bittersweet.

Wednesday, she saw six players celebrate the opening of the volleyball signing period and their intentions to move on to four-year schools.

That’s six Lady Wranglers, all from the first group Gray led during her first season as the team’s head coach last fall, all putting pen to paper and officially leaving the squad.

Yet, at the same time, that’s six Lady Wranglers moving on to big things.

“All in all, we had a great year and it’s going to be hard to see them leave,” Gray said just after the team’s signing celebration Wednesday.

“But I’m excited for them to start their new adventure.”

Those adventures will take some Lady Wranglers as far as the east coast, and others even as far as the Hawaiian Islands as they continue their careers in volleyball.

Anna Rupertova is set to play at the Division I level at Norfolk State in Virginia next season. Alison Fuata and Chandler Lippincott are both headed for Division II, and both headed for the Pacific — with Fuata set to suit up for Hawaii-Hilo and Lippincott set to play for Hawaii Pacific.

Makenzie Rainone is headed for Division II St. Mary’s in San Antonio. Amanda Santos is going to the NAIA’s Columbia College in South Carolina. Raevyn Kaupu is staying close and headed for the same level on her way to the University of the Southwest in Hobbs, N.M.

Of the six, three are already off Odessa College’s campus and enrolled at their new schools.

But Fuata, Rupertova and Kaupu celebrated the official opening of the signing period Wednesday at the OC Sports Center all the same.

“I’m excited,” Gray said. “It’s always good for your girls to go play on at another school, but it makes it even better when they’re excited to go to that school.”

Each of the six signees are moving on after helping lift Odessa College to a 25-5 regular season last fall, and an outright regular-season WJCAC championship.

Fuata and Lippincott were named to the WJCAC’s all-conference team, while Rupertova was named conference MVP.

For Fuata, signing day Wednesday brought the sophomore outside hitter that much closer to home. Originally from Hilo, Hawaii, Fuata was glad she left home for Odessa College, but now she’s excited about the chance to finish up her final two years of collegiate volleyball in front of family and old friends back home.

“It feels pretty cool, especially since my family and friends will be able to watch me play for my last two years,” Fuata said. “It’ll be cool.”

Back home, she’ll have the chance to play across from a Lady Wrangler teammate in Lippincott, who’ll be suiting up for a Pacific West Conference rival.

Kaupu came to Odessa College from Hawaii, too, but also found something a bit like home, in some ways, over in Hobbs.

“We talked and I went on a visit right after the season to go check out the campus,” Kaupu said. “It was small, and it kind of reminded me of high school, because my high school was really small.

“Seeing the environment and everything, I was fine and I actually really wanted to go there.”

Meanwhile, Rupertova, from the Czech Republic, is set to represent the Lady Wranglers at the Division I level.

“She loves the United States and she’s nervous about her new school because she is from another country and having to make new friends and trying to get accustomed to a new program,” Gray said. “But she’s excited.”

In each case, Gray is confident the former Lady Wranglers will represent the program well at the four-year level — and confident the program can keep helping to provide those kinds of opportunities to Lady Wranglers in the future.

“Whenever your girls decide they want to keep playing and still have the passion for the sport, it’s awesome,” Gray said.