Ronan’s Lee Camel has always been familiar with netting when it comes to sports. She was used to the satisfying swish that came with each shot she hit in an illustrious high school basketball career.
But it was the addition of volleyball into her athletic repertoire – and a net you need to avoid with each shot – that highlighted just how versatile an athlete Camel really is. It’s part of why Missoulian readers voted her this week as the 2016-17 female Prep Athlete of the Year out of 10 talented candidates.
“She always went the extra mile for herself and for her teammates and she’s just an all-around good person and good athlete – I think that’s what makes you the prep athlete of the year,” Ronan volleyball coach Charla Lake said.
Her numbers don't lie, either.
Camel was an all-state selection in both volleyball and basketball, helping her Maidens to an unbeaten regular season in hoops. She led a dangerous three-pronged attack, which included her cousin Alicia Camel as well as junior guard Micalann McCrea, in total scoring, assists and steals, according to the team’s maxpreps page.
Her all-state award in basketball didn't come as a surprise. Lee had already achieved the honor both her sophomore and junior years. She was a basketball player by trade and by birthright. Lee is the daughter of two former University of Montana basketball players: JR Camel and Malia Kipp.
Lee grew up in a gym.
But that court was usually marked for basketball – not volleyball. It took some coaxing by Lake, then the Maidens’ first-year coach, and company, but they finally convinced Lee she could be a volleyball star too. Camel came out for the team two years ago.
“She’s shy, but she ended up coming out for her junior year and senior year. ... For starting so late and being so amazing just speaks to how athletic she is,” Lake said.
Last fall Lee really shined and the rest of the state took notice. She was a vicious middle blocker, though coach Lake would play her everywhere on the court.
“She was definitely a force in the middle blocking section, but I just put her wherever was the best threat because she definitely was the best hitter on the team,” Lake said. “When she would just lock on to some of those players in the front and reject the ball from our side, you could just see how amazing she was.”
The quick success at a secondary sport even took JR – one of her biggest fans – aback.
“She surprised me this year, this is the second year she played volleyball and she was first-team all-state,” Lee’s dad said during the basketball season. “She plays with such an intensity and focus – she makes me happy every day.”
That same passion carried over to her first love – basketball – in her senior season. She averaged 17.7 points and 5.8 boards per game. She was also good for over four assists and three steals each outing and took particular pride in her defense.
Lee’s importance to the team may very well have shown in her absence from it. She sustained a foot injury in the Western B semifinals and was hobbled at the state tournament. She tried to play through the pain but couldn’t muster full minutes. The Maidens, who were nearly unstoppable going into state with a 23-0 record, went two and out at the State B tournament.
The injury also may have taken away from her track season. Although she won the Western B-C title in the long jump, she did not compete in the triple jump, where she was a state placer her junior year.
The unfortunate timing of an injury and ultimate conclusion of the season doesn’t take away from the year she had – one that will be forever immortalized as the Missoulian’s first-ever female Prep Athlete of the Year.
The Top 10 boys’ nominees for Prep Athlete of the Year will be named in Wednesday’s edition of the Missoulian. The winner will be announced next Sunday.