Sunday, Apr 20, 2014
Hernando High

Two-sport standout gets the call from the hall


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Editor's note: This is the second story in a series highlighting Hernando High's 2013 Sports Hall of Fame inductees.

A self-proclaimed "tomboy" - and youngest of five children - Monica Lee Hysell-Lovett is expected to be accompanied by her husband Bobby during the Oct. 17 Hernando High Sports Hall of Fame banquet in Brooksville.

Hysell-Lovett is one of two females in the eight-member Hall of Fame Class of 2013, joining Chrissy Hartley-Dushane.

After earning seven varsity letters in two sports - basketball and softball - Hysell-Lovett, 47, recalled with awe when she was tabbed for the Hall of Fame.

"I was shocked," she said. "After J.P. (HHS Dean of Students John Palmer) contacted me, I told him I was so appreciative. I was raised not to really boast about anything, so it's hard to accept accolades like this.

"Like after I scored 32 points one night I'd responded by saying, 'Yeah, I did OK, but I could have done better.'"

On what hooked her to sports, "I loved sports and I didn't like being indoors," recalled Hysell-Lovett. "I loved being outdoors."

The 5-foot-10 Hysell-Lovett specifically gives credit to two huge role models in her life: her grandfather Ken Hysell and grade school coach Pauline Neri.

"I really don't remember granddad that much, but he's the one that got me playing basketball," recalled Hysell-Lovett. "When I was 3, he was the one who poured the concrete for the basketball court. When I was little, I practiced for hours and hours just shooting.

"As far as Coach Neri, she was hard on all us kids," said Hysell-Lovett. "She wasn't mean or anything. It was more, if you're going to do it, you're going to do it right."

Hysell-Lovett was born in Hinsdale, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago. Her family relocated to the Sunshine State in 1969. To this day, she calls herself a native Floridian.

Her initial organized sport was in Gulf Port in Pinellas County. She participated in basketball, mostly playing guard, from fourth until eighth grade.

In those formative years, she described herself as "a tomboy," saying, "my brothers and sisters played some sports, but not like me. I was totally into it. I played everything when I was little including basketball, softball, volleyball, tennis and track."

Her parents bought a piece of property in Brooksville during her seventh-grade year. Off and on they'd spend weekends in Hernando County before finally relocating prior to Monica's freshman year at HHS.

She settled on two sports: basketball and slow-pitch softball. Fast-pitch wasn't in vogue until 1988-89.

Hysell-Lovett was so adaptable on the hardwood courts she made the varsity hoop squad at 13 years old.

In her first two seasons she played for the Lady Leopards' veteran coach Joe Solomon. Solomon also served as the school's long-time tennis mentor.

Prior to her junior year, Hysell-Lovett kept feeling pain running up and down her legs. After she went to doctor she was diagnosed with Osgood-Schalatter disease.

Osgood-Schalatter occurs most often in children who participate in sports that involve running, jumping and swift changes of direction. Her doctor recommended that she immediately stop playing basketball.

"I was devastated," recalled Hysell-Lovett, on the decision not to play hoops. "I lived and breathed playing basketball.

"Fortunately, I felt much better come the spring. There was no more tingling in my legs, so I was able to go out for softball."

From her sophomore to her junior year, Hysell-Lovett sprouted four inches - making her a post player when she returned to the courts.

As a senior, she played for Walt Cermak - the county's all-time winningest female hoops mentor. Despite fielding only a seven-member squad, she recalls her team's moniker of the "Magnificent Seven."

Her shining moment was HHS' thrilling regional title win over heavily favored Orlando-Lake Mary, 46-45.

"That was a huge win," said Hysell-Lovett. "That's the hardest we've ever practiced for a game. They had two 6-foot girls to deal with. I'll never forget beating those guys."

After capturing the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, district and regional titles, the Lady Leopards were eliminated in the sectional - just one win shy of the Final Four - by Ocala-Vanguard, 65-39. HHS didn't lose to a slouch. Two games later, the Lady Knights captured the Class 3A state championship over Marianna at Winter Park, 54-53.

At season's end, Hysell-Lovett and teammates Lea Hamilton and Marcey Lee were named to the 1982-83 All-GCAC team.

Hysell-Lovett concluded her prep career with 13 school records. She totaled 858 points (averaging 13.0 points per game), 526 assists (7.97 per game), 523 rebounds (7.92 per game) and 427 steals (6.5 per game).

As a result, she was a shoo-in as the GCAC's Player of the Year and was also feted by the Tampa Tribune as Pasco-Hernando's POY.

On the diamond, Hysell-Lovett earned four varsity letters while pitching under Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tom Varn.

As a senior, she joined Dana Jones, Laura Shiveler, Doricina Warren, Shelta Churchill and Lea Hamilton on the All-GCAC squad.

Despite sharing the GCAC crown with Gulf (Bucs' coach Margaret Deak was named Coach of the Year), Hysell-Lovett, a three-time All-GCAC selection, was tabbed again as POY. She helped guide HHS to district and regional titles.

On the hill, she established herself as a premier hurler setting school records at the time for most games played (99 across four seasons), most games pitched in a season (30 in 1983) and most wins in a season (28 in '83).

In four campaigns, she twirled eight one-hitters and piled up nine shutouts during her senior year.

Coach Varn may have best summed up Hysell's efforts, saying, "She is outstanding in basketball and softball. She played on two championship teams. There isn't anybody else that has done that; she is in a class by herself."

Upon graduation from HHS in 1983, Hysell-Lovett's other passion took over: her love for horses.

Instead of immediately playing college hoops she opted to raise $3,400 and pay for a show horse named Leggs. Leggs, a 2-year-old, was trained as a jumper.

After two years, Hysell-Lovett returned to the athletic arena playing hoops and softball for one season at nearby Pasco-Hernando Community College.

Showing no signs of rust, she paced the 1986 Lady Conquistadors in scoring (21.0 points per game) and rebounding. She set her a personal record with 35 points and 32 rebounds in one game.

After one year, she earned an athletic scholarship under Don Swart at Saint Leo University.

She played hoops for two seasons and softball for one - her sophomore year. A nagging left knee injury sidelined her prior to her senior year.

After four knee surgeries, she opted not to return to competition and graduated from St. Leo with a bachelor's degree in physical education.

She eventually earned her master of science in counseling and psychology from Troy University in 1999.

Currently, she's employed as an ESE Employment Specialist at Nature Coast Technical High School in Brooksville.

After coaching physical education for eight years at Parrott Middle School and serving 15 years as a guidance counselor, she's in her 25th year of education in the Hernando County School District.

"I wanted to get into education to help kids out and help them get started in life," she described. "When I first got into coaching I was expecting the kids to all be college material. I quickly modified my stance just trying to have them reach their potential.

"It was also my way of stressing that academics have to come first if you want to be successful in life.

Monica married Bobby in 1991.

"Bobby, we're like opposites in that I came from the country, and he was from the city (New York)," she recalls. "But he's my best friend and soul mate. We do everything together."

The Lovett's reside in Brooksville and feature a family of two Rottweilers and three Boston Terriers.

These days, Hysell-Lovett does not care for a horse. She cared for horses for 33 years.

On the eve of her induction into the HHS HOF, Hysell-Lovett passed on advice to any aspiring Hernando County student/athlete.

"It starts with heart," she said. "You've got to have heart to play. You've also got to put in the time with practice. When I was little, I always had a ball in my hand; things haven't changed.

"And to be the best player you can be you've got to play against people who are better than you."

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