Herald Photo / Dean Hockney
MAKING GAINES  — Kokomo High School senior Deztanie Gaines will continue her volleyball career at Santa Rosa Junior College in California.
Herald Photo / Dean Hockney MAKING GAINES — Kokomo High School senior Deztanie Gaines will continue her volleyball career at Santa Rosa Junior College in California.
It is not uncommon for local student-athletes to continue an athletic career at the collegiate level. Most sign to play at a small Midwestern school to continue a love for athletics as the pursue academics. 

Deztanie Gaines is one of the exceptions as she will continue her athletic career three time zones away in California. The Kokomo High School senior will play volleyball at Santa Rosa Junior College. According to Gaines, the decision was not the surprising. In fact, it was a dream of hers.

“It has always been a dream of mine to live in California. Santa Rosa is an hour-and-a-half north of San Francisco and is up in the mountains; it is beautiful,” said Gaines. “My aunt lives there, and I have been there to visit. She moved out there about 10 years ago from Kokomo and lives 15 minutes from the college. My brother also went to the college, so I had seen it.”

She accepted the offer to attend Santa Rosa after just one official visit. She will become a Bear Cub and play in Big 8 Conference in the competitive California Community College Athletic Association. SRJS was founded in 1918 and is the 10th oldest community college in the state. Gaines also hopes the program will be a stepping-stone towards a four-year volleyball program.

“I knew during my junior year that I wanted to reach a higher level that I hadn’t reached yet,” said Gaines. “The coach has been awesome and helpful. She has educated me on the program and the college, just very welcoming. Coach has also talked to me about the process (of moving on to a four-year school).”

While at Kokomo, Gaines was an instrumental part of an improving Lady Wildkats program. She was a six-time MaxPreps Player of the Match during her senior season and was the Kats leader in total blocks (40), solo blocks (29), kills per set (2.5), and kill percentage (37.6). She was also second with 197 kills, while adding 12 aces, 54 digs and 11 block assists. In three varsity seasons, she accounted for 437 kills, 106 total blocks, and a kill percentage of 35.2.

“Dez has wanted to play at the next level and fell in love with the school,” said Kokomo Head Coach Jason Watson. “She has already been working on her college game, and I am proud of her.”

Looking back at her four years as a Lady Kat, Gaines said she is appreciative of the relationships she formed with her teammates and coaches.

“They have all been so helpful and encouraging,” said Gaines, who also played tennis and is a member of the Girls League. “I started playing in the eighth-grade because my best friend played; I didn’t know anything about it, and she really encouraged me.”

Watson noted that Gaines was not on the radar since she started the game late. In fact, she was a C Team player as a freshman.

“I point to her as a raw talent, very athletic,” he said. “She quickly became a starter by her sophomore year, and ever since then, we have had a solid winning record. It is no accident that we became a different team with these three-year players (Gaines, Kelsey Jones, and Brooke Smith). It has been a difference maker on the court and in the classroom. Dez is an outstanding student and community member.”

The year prior to Gaines joining the varsity VolleyKats, the squad was 6-20. But with Gaines, Jones, and Smith in the lineup, the Kats followed with records of 19-13, 17-13 and 17-15.

“She was the go-to during her senior year,” said Watson of the Kats middle blocker. “Now she will have to learn the pace of the college game. Everyone is bigger, stronger, and faster. She will need to be more versatile, although she could play any of our front-row positions this year. I expect big things from her. She has a passion for the game that you can’t teach.”