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Jessica Lechner has always been comfortable on stage.

It is where she excels.

On the volleyball court, she brings an unbridled enthusiasm that is contagious with teammates and fans.

As a performer, with guitar in hand, Lechner shares personal stories through song.

After Thursday night, Lechner will be replacing one full-time passion with another.

The extremely likable Lechner is the lone senior on this year's Montana State Billings volleyball team. The Yellowjackets close out their season Thursday with a home match against Saint Martin's.

She will be trading spikes and blocks for words and musical arrangements.

Lechner finishes her career at MSUB among the career leaders in games played, kills, total blocks and block assists. Lechner is just one of five Yellowjackets to play in more than 400 games.

"I never thought about records," said Lechner, a 5-foot-11 middle blocker. "Those never occurred to me when I first came here to play. I just wanted to do what I could to help the team.

"Volleyball is a passion. I put everything I had into the game."

And she has the bumps and bruises to back her statement. Lecher can often be seen after games with ice bags wrapped around her shoulder, knees and hips.

"There is a mixture of feelings as it comes to an end," Lechner said. "It will be hard not to come to the gym every day after class. I'm sure I'll want to.

"But my next focus is my music."

Lechner released a CD this summer, "This Road I'm On," which was received well locally.

"A total surprise," she said. "It was so neat to see people excited about it.

"I still have to pay my mom back for making it," she finished with a laugh.

Lechner's senior season could provide material for her next batch of songs.

All the elements are there: pain, perseverance and patience. And eventually finding yourself.

"Maybe," Lechner offered. "I'd have to possibly disguise it."

Her father Dan, better known around Pompeys Pillar as "Bruno," passed away on May 19 from cancer. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Lechner's senior season at Huntley Project High School.

"This year has been very tough," Lechner said, her voice dropping slightly. "Even when he was sick, he came to as many games as he could. It's hard not to look up in the stands and not see him."

Lechner has been bolstered by a strong core of family members, including her mother Teresa and sister Amanda.

While her singing career was ascending this summer, her final volleyball season also brought more changes.

Lechner is playing for her third coach in as many years. She played her first two seasons for Pa'ulasi Matavao, last year for Sara Schaub and now this fall for Dana Cordova.

"That's been different," said Lechner. "Every coach has new ideas on how to do things. You just need to make the adjustments as a player. With each new coach, I felt like a freshman again. You just have to buck up and play hard."

Lechner played a key role in three straight winning seasons for the Yellowjackets, including the 2006 team that finished 26-5, won the Heartland Conference championship and advanced to the NCAA Division II tournament.

Lechner was thrown into major minutes on the court her freshman year as MSUB had just eight players. The team finished 20-8.

"We had a lot of fun. We were so close," said Lechner. "With just eight players, nobody could get hurt. We all had little injuries, but you played through them."

At Huntley Project, Lechner helped the Red Devils win a pair of Class B state titles.

This season, with a new coach and nine new players, MSUB is 6-23.

"This year … it's different. Winning was all I knew," said Lechner, carefully choosing her words. "But I've learned a lot about myself this year.

"It humbles you. It makes you appreciate the good times you've had before. These have been hard times. But I would never quit. I would never quit on my teammates. I've had some amazing coaches and amazing teammates. It was such a blessing to be here."

While everything around her has changed, Lechner's approach to the game has not. She still excitedly shares high-fives with teammates after a good play and is not afraid to sell out while chasing an errant volleyball.

"I try to bring energy and excitement," she said. "You have to push through every minute of every game. It's the only way I know how to play. I have to play hard so that I know when I walk off the court, I gave it everything I could."

Lechner will take the same approach to her burgeoning music career.

An elementary education major, she planned on teaching after graduation. Those plans could be put on hold.

"I might try the music thing, maybe try Seattle," Lechner said. "I can always go back to teaching.

"I haven't completed a song this season, I've been so busy with volleyball. Once volleyball is over, I'll be writing like crazy.

"This year has been kind of a roller-coaster. It's made me appreciate all the good things. I've had so many good times here, I feel so lucky."

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