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Kaylee Cox has basketball in her blood.

Her mother played the game at Southern Methodist, her father at Central Methodist. Her second-oldest sister, Whitney, is a junior at Lubbock Christian.

And then there’s oldest sister Lauren, a national champion at Baylor, where she was a three-time All-American, two-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and 2020 Big 12 Player of the Year. She was the No. 3 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft and currently plays for the Los Angeles Sparks.

It made sense for the 6-foot-2 Kaylee to follow in those footsteps.

But it didn’t bother her star sister when Kaylee chose a different path — volleyball, which ultimately led her to Missouri. Lucky for the Tigers, she was a natural.

“I didn’t really feel a certain type of way when Kaylee chose volleyball,” Lauren said. “I was just happy that she found something that she loved as much as I love basketball. Kaylee was always a little different when it came to sports. She tried basketball but never really got into it. She was a really good soccer player before she got into volleyball.”

For Kaylee, a Flower Mound, Texas, native, the choice was a no-brainer. She told The Dallas Morning News she didn’t like basketball and knew it wasn’t her sport. She played soccer for eight years before finding volleyball and falling in love with the game. She told the paper that her mother influenced her to play volleyball, as did her oldest sister.

“Seeing (Lauren) play, it looked like a lot of fun,” Kaylee told the paper. When I started, my blocking wasn’t like amazing. She was a middle, and she helped me a lot.”

Flower Mound volleyball coach Jamie Siegel said Kaylee’s decision to focus on volleyball was probably a relief and eliminated the pressure to have to live up to Lauren’s legacy.

“All the sisters are supportive, but they’re also all very competitive,” Siegel said.

The oldest Cox sister set the bar undoubtedly high for Kaylee, but the Missouri freshman is blazing her own trail.

All in the family

Having three sisters is one thing. Having three sisters and parents who are all athletically inclined and highly competitive is a completely different story.

“I think sports have definitely brought us closer because we all love to win and know what it’s like to be in a competitive environment,” Lauren said. “For me especially, I’ve been able to give them all advice at different levels because I’ve been through it all before. Our parents were both collegiate basketball players, so we all started playing sports at a young age. I think our passion stems from the competitiveness and love of the game.”

Lauren, Whitney, Kaylee and youngest sister Madison are at different stages of their careers, with Lauren in the WNBA, Whitney in her junior year at Lubbock Christian, Kaylee at Missouri and Madison in her junior year at Flower Mound.

Kaylee said she especially idolizes Lauren’s work ethic and success.

“My oldest sister, Lauren, is my biggest role model just because she has gone through so much with all that she’s done,” she said. “Even if it’s a different sport, it’s so cool to look up to her and see what she’s doing for herself and always working to give her 100%.”

Time and time again, family powerhouses dominate a variety of sports and capture fans’ hearts. How do athletically-successful families find a balance?

“We are a very competitive group in everything we do,” Lauren said. “This has led to a few fights here and there, but at the end of the day we all love each other. We are all very close, and they are some of my best friends. Whether we are playing sports, card games or even racing to the car when we were younger, we all want to win, and we are willing to do whatever it takes.”

Kaylee has certainly cemented herself as a major asset for the Tigers. She plays all six spots and is equally effective on offense, defense and from the service line. Her poise on the court and knowledge of the game conceal the fact that she is a rookie; however, Cox has no problem leading as an underclassman. She led Flower Mound to its first state title as a sophomore in 2018.

In early September at the Cardinal Classic, Cox had a season-high 21 kills against South Dakota and 17 digs against Northern Kentucky. Her dominant performances for Missouri earned her SEC Freshman of the Week honors.

“It was a little bit of a shock, honestly, to get Freshman of the Week,” Cox said. “I was happy with my performance but I thought I could do a little bit better.”

Cox is a lot of things: Missouri volleyball outside hitter, a recent SEC Freshman of the Week, a Texas State champion, a Tik Tok creator and a middle child.

But most of all, she is competitive. She believes she can always do better — good is never good enough.

“I think I motivate myself a lot because if I’m not playing well, I get very frustrated with myself, and that makes me a super competitive person, especially with having three sisters, two older and one younger,” Cox said. “I think that has definitely impacted my life and being competitive.”

Coaching a Cox

Cox’s state championship bout was also Siegel’s first season as Flower Mound’s coach. Siegel said everyone on the team bought into the process, and Cox showcased her leadership skills immediately.

“Kaylee is, I mean, I knew the group was special and that she was special right when I came in,” Siegel said. “She wanted to win state, had that mentality during weight room and practice, and that determination is going to give her success in life and on the court. She holds teammates accountable, which is her biggest attribute as a leader. ... She’ll be the first one to hold you accountable but also the first to say good job.”

In the three years they spent together, Siegel and Cox had an unconventional relationship that was mutually beneficial. Cox challenged Siegel, but Siegel said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Those little moments when she tells me what she thinks, I tell her what I think, and we just agree to disagree,” Siegel said. I’ll say, ‘I’m the coach,’ and then she follows instructions and plays to the best of her ability, every time. Her volleyball IQ is high, and she’ll challenge you, even as a coach.”

Siegel said Cox’s biggest strengths are her competitiveness, determination and volleyball IQ. However, off the court, Cox has a goofy, light-hearted charm.

“She would always dance at the end of practice, and I’d catch it on the film, such a funny kid. A lot of people don’t get to see that,” Siegel said. “She’s like a daughter to me. ... We keep up with each other.”

Competitiveness is a motivator for Cox, Siegel said, but it has caused her to want and expect success to come immediately. Siegel said Cox doesn’t like to wait and needs to realize she can’t have it all at once. Playing for a young, struggling Missouri team this season has taught Cox what it’s like to be the underdog.

“It has made me realize a lot of things, because I’ve always been on winning teams.” Cox said. ... “It’s taking some getting used to, but I think it’s helping me mentally and physically to realize that you don’t win every game, so you just have to take it day by day.”

MU volleyball coach Joshua Taylor has given her a significant role on the team, playing six rotations as a rookie.

“One of the biggest things that plays in her favor is how high her volleyball IQ is,” Taylor said. “With how smart you are, you find ways to score, you find ways to be good on defense, so yeah, she’s doing great things on all fronts of the game. Carrying that heavy of a load as a freshman is tough.”

Reaching for the stars

Despite Missouri’s dismal 3-11 record, Cox said she is confident in the program. Her hopes are still high, and she’s planning the Tigers’ return to the NCAA Tournament — if not this season, then next season. Her other goals include winning an SEC Championship and possibly even a national championship.

“I think Kaylee has done a great job adjusting to the next level,” Lauren said. “There are a lot of different factors when you go to college. ... I think Kaylee is doing awesome. She has always been very mature, and I think that has really benefited her at the collegiate level. I just try to be there for her if she ever needs someone to talk to and just encourage her to be her best.”

Receiving SEC Freshman of the Week recognition is only the start. Cox has momentum heading into the second half of the season, and Siegel said she has full confidence in Cox’s ability and the Missouri coaching staff. Lauren agreed and said Cox has much more to offer. Tigers fans should expect big plays and energy from the freshman, as her competitiveness continues to drive herself and her teammates to do better.

“It’s great to see Kaylee get recognized for her performance because I think she does a little bit of everything,” Lauren said. “She can pass, she can hit, and she has great leadership skills. Once she starts to get more comfortable, you will see the leadership side of Kaylee come out more. I have no doubt she is going to be a great player and leave her legacy.”

This article originally ran on columbiamissourian.com.