SAINT LEO, Fla. - Coaching a women's basketball team in a highly competitive Division II Conference is never an easy job. However, having a head coaching position and being married to the head coach of an opposing team might be even more difficult. This is the case for Saint Leo Head Women's Basketball Coach Nikki Jessee, as she enters her first season with the Lions in the 2011-2012 school year.
Beginning her coaching career as a graduate assistant at Campbell University, Lion's head coach Nikki Jessee (formerly Nikki Sullivan) has amassed several impressive points for her coaching resume, including playing professionally overseas, assisting a variety of colleges, and serving as the head coach for various high schools and universities across the country. "I'm one of those rare people who didn't just fall into it," says Jessee of her coaching career, "I've always wanted to coach."
After snagging the head coaching position at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida and guiding the Fighting Knights through two successful seasons, Nikki Sullivan married the University of Tampa Head Women's Basketball Coach Tom Jessee and relocated to the bay area in order to start a family. The pair became a coaching duo for the Tampa Spartans, where Nikki assisted her husband in their quest for the crown for two consecutive years and tacked a Sunshine State Conference Championship onto her already well-developed basketball resume. "To work with your spouse is probably one of the best things that ever happened to us. Plus, I got to step back and see things that I didn't get to see as a head coach," says Nikki. During their shared time at the University of Tampa, the dynamic duo also added a new member to their family. Their daughter, Rudi Jessee, who is 18 months old, will be attending both Spartans and Lions games throughout the upcoming season.
Although this season won't mark the beginning of a coaching rivalry between the two coaches, the start of Sunshine State Conference women's basketball this year will signal the first head coaching rivalry between the two as a married couple. The only question is: who has the upper hand? Nikki believes that her coaching experience at the University of Tampa gives the Lions some advantages, "but he knows me just as well as I know him."
Despite the fact that their career choices have created a situation which most families never have to worry about, the Jessee's claim that they are ordinary people save for one extraordinary aspect. Their careers depend on the success of their spouse; however, neither coach sees it this way. Nikki says, "The only time we affect each other's future is during the two [regular season] games we play each other." Even then, the Lion's coach is not worried: "All the pressure is on them; they're the conference powerhouse and are supposed to win."
Though it would seem that constantly living the life of a coach would be a trying ordeal, Nikki simply states that their home life is normal; they talk about their jobs just as any family does. "This is our life. If we didn't talk about it, we wouldn't talk," Nikki explains, "We bounce ideas off of each other and share knowledge. And we have an unspoken rule about recruiting."
Nikki's record against her husband is 2-3, but she's hoping to get ahead this year. On the other hand, the Lions have until the beginning of 2012 to prepare for the Spartans. Their first match-up will take place on Wednesday, January 4th at the University of Tampa and their home game against the Spartans will occur on Wednesday, February 8th in the Saint Leo Athletics Marian Bowman Activities Center.
Story written by softball junior Katie Gwinn.