By Kyle LoJacono
Saint Leo University has selected its next women’s basketball coach, and the new leader is already a veteran of the Sunshine State Conference (SSC).
Nikki Jessee was named the Lions 11th women’s basketball coach April 11 and came a week after Lance Randall was named the leader of the men’s program. The 12-year coach and assistant last led a program at rival SSC program Lynn University in Boca Raton. Jessee has compiled 70 wins during her five years as a head coach.
“While we had a great pool of candidates for this position, coach Jessee has successfully rebuilt two programs in Martin Methodist and Lynn University,” said Saint Leo athletic director Francis Reidy. “She has proven she can do what needs to be accomplished to be successful with our women’s program.”
Jessee, who was born in Florida, has even more experience in the SSC, a Division II conference. She most recently was an assistant at the University of Tampa under coach Tom Jessee, her husband. The Spartans won a regular season SSC championship in 2009-10 and posted a 21-8 record last year.
“I’m ecstatic to have been given the opportunity by Mr. Reidy to bring a winning tradition to the Saint Leo women’s basketball program,” Jessee said. “We will immediately get to work developing the players we now have, and adding some missing pieces to move this program in the right direction.”
The new Lions leader began her coaching career in Lakeland with George Jenkins High. The Eagles reached the Class 5A state championship game during the 1999-00 season, losing 78-39 to Hollywood South Broward. Jessee became the coach at Orlando Lyman High the next year.
Jessee was later the coach at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. There she guided the program to its first conference tournament win. Jessee has the most wins of any women’s basketball coach in Martin history. Jessee was also the recruiting coordinator from 2003-04 at Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn. before heading to Martin.
Jessee played basketball at Lakeland High and was an All-American before moving on to the University of Florida. She signed a professional contract with the Thames Valley Tigers in Bracknell, England.
“Nikki Jessee has been successful as a player, assistant coach and head coach in the Sunshine State Conference,” Reidy said. “For these reasons she was the best choice to lead our program going forward. We are excited to have Nicole, Tom except for two nights a year, and daughter Rudi as the newest members of our Saint Leo family.”
Jessee has big plans for the Lions program both on the court and in the community. She said her student athletes will be encouraged to volunteer with charitable groups in Pasco County.
“Saint Leo is a hidden gem with wonderful people surrounding it, and one which I hope to put on the map basketball wise,” Jessee said.
Jesse replaces Saint Leo alumnus Chanita Olds, who led the program since 2005. The Lions were 9-18 last season, 1-15 in SSC contests, and missed the conference playoffs.
Jessee graduated from Rollins College in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in English and earned her master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Campbell University in 2001.