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New role, same leadership from Cheyenne Nunez

Cheyenne Nunez03
Okeechobee High School senior Cheyenne Nunez, a four-year varsity player, goes airborne to deliver a serve Oct. 15 against Lake Placid.

OKEECHOBEE — The collage of flattering testimonials plastered on posters against a wall in Okeechobee High School’s gymnasium for senior night served as written proof to the significant contributions Cheyenne Nunez made in the Brahmans’ volleyball program.

Basketball and softball senior nights will come in the months ahead for the three-sport standout from the Brighton Reservation, but it was her volleyball teammates’ turn Oct. 16 to honor a four-year varsity player whose impact won’t soon be forgotten.

Josie Griffin, a junior, wrote: “I look up to you in the way that you are able to constantly be uplifting and motivate us to never give up. Even when I’m completely [upset] you manage to get my head back in the game.”

Junior Andee Garcia penned: “You have helped me both on and off the court. I enjoy having you in the back row. Whether they were balls that were mine or yours, you always seemed to get them!”

Accolades also came in the verbal variety for Cheyenne, whose position on the court this season changed because of a teammate’s injury, but her leadership skills remained intact.

She was the first of three players from the Class of 2016 recognized in a pregame ceremony prior to the team’s 3-1 win against Lake Placid.

“The girls all love her and are drawn to her because she’s intense and because she has so much faith in the team all the time,” Okeechobee coach Taylor Padrick said after the match. “She never wavers or gets upset or gets down on herself or anybody else. Her critiques are always positive; they always come at you in a constructive way, never a negative way, and I think that’s why the girls pull to her.”

Padrick gave Cheyenne a long, heartfelt hug during the ceremony.

“I told her how proud of her I was and that I refused to cry because … the season wasn’t over yet. There was no room for tears yet,” Padrick said.

Cheyenne arrived at the greeting line with family members by her side that spanned three generations, including her mother, Peggy; father, Daniel Sr.; brother and 2015 Okeechobee High graduate Daniel Jr.; younger sisters Daliyah and Joleyne; and nephew Daniel III, the newest Nunez who is also known as D3.

The nickname that accompanies Cheyenne – “Shy” – has far more to do with her first name than her demeanor. In fact, ever since she arrived at Okeechobee High from Yearling Middle School, Cheyenne has been known for her strong determination to succeed while encouraging others to do their best.

“The best thing about Cheyenne is that she has an attitude that never changes,” Padrick said. “She’s intense and she’s constant and she’s positive all the time. That’s something that only got more intensified as she got older.”

Before she even walked through the doors at OHS as a freshman, Cheyenne already had devised a game plan to tackle upcoming challenges.

“When I was in eighth grade – I remember this like it was yesterday – I told myself, ‘Cheyenne, you have to stay determined and you have to stay positive. There are so many girls that are better than you in basketball, volleyball and softball,’” she said.

The approach worked. As a freshman, Cheyenne made varsity in all three sports. By the time her senior night for softball comes this spring, she will have earned 12 varsity letters, all while maintaining a grade point average of around 3.5, as well as spending a year representing the Seminole Tribe as Jr. Miss Florida Seminole.

“I worked my butt off,” she said.

Her job for the volleyball team unexpectedly changed this season. After spending three years as an outside hitter, Cheyenne was placed in a new position because of a season-ending injury suffered by the team’s starting libero, a position whose main responsibility is to do whatever it takes – be it squatting, diving, lunging – to make sure that blasts from opponents don’t hit the floor while keeping the ball in play for teammates.

Determined to continue playing volleyball and/or softball in college, Cheyenne admitted she had second thoughts about a switch so late in her high school career, especially moving to a position she had never played.

“At first, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty upset,” she said.

But noting that “God has his ways,” Cheyenne decided to grasp the position with vigor.

“If it’s going to make my team better, then by all means, I’m going to do it,” she said.

Cheyenne has done more than just fill in at libero; she’s excelled, so much that the 26 digs she recorded against Lake Placid brought her season total to 233.

“There were a couple of balls in the third set that she got up, that in my head no normal player would have been able to get there, but she just anticipates and she reads the ball so well; balls that you don’t think anyone would be able to get to, she can get her hands on and make a decent pass out of it,” Padrick said.

At times in the match, Cheyenne and fellow Seminole Odessa King played next to each other in the back row. Odessa, a junior, is fifth on the team in digs with 44, which included 13 in a win against Sebring.

“She’s an amazing back row player. I trust her. If something happened to me, I would want her to take my spot,” Cheyenne said.

Cheyenne, who made a season-high 47 digs in a five-set win against John Carroll on Oct. 6, said this year’s team is the strongest in her four years, which will make saying good-bye – whenever that time comes – tough.

“These girls, they inspire me,” she said. “I’m going to miss them so much.”

Cheyenne explained that during her four years, the squad has always been “scrappy” but not very tall. However, this season there’s plenty of height, which helped the Brahmans generate a 16-2 record entering the final week of the regular season.

Some of that new height comes from former Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School player Raeley Matthews, an outside hitter who leads the team in kills as a freshman.

“She’s doing amazing,” Cheyenne said. “She is our powerhouse. Before our game against Jensen Beach, I told her, ‘Rae, you go out there, you do your job. You put that ball on the floor and Jensen will not defend it.’ What did she do? She did her job. She put the ball on the floor. Jensen couldn’t bring it back it up.”

Raeley delivered 14 kills against Jensen Beach, which has won three state titles since 2007 and is Okeechobee’s big rival. Jensen Beach won the match in three tough sets, but it still proved to be a memorable night at home for Cheyenne, who had 27 digs.

“We came out so pumped, so hyped,” she said. “I’ve never seen this gym be so full. It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had. If we would have won that first set, this entire gym would have went upside down because they were so excited.”

Whenever Okeechobee’s season ends, Cheyenne won’t get a recess. She will jump into basketball season and continue playing on a travel volleyball team with her fellow senior teammates Baylee Farless and Makayla Root.

“It’s a good experience for us to be seen,” Cheyenne said. “I just got an email that we’re going to Las Vegas for a regional qualifier. I’m pretty excited for Vegas; I’ve never been.”

She’s also excited about heading off to college next year. Her radar includes a few Florida schools for volleyball and/or softball. She probably won’t make a decision until the spring, but figures her performance at the libero position should boost her chances to land on a college roster.

“Defense is one of my strongest things,” she said. “I’m going to be a [defensive specialist] or a libero whenever I get to college, so I might as well get used to it now.”

 

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Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at kevinjohnson@semtribe.com.
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