Ronda Shirley enjoyed coaching Robert E. Lee volleyball, but the pull back to the college game was always there.
Navarro College offered her a chance to return and Shirley has taken it. Shirley sent a letter of resignation Thursday to Tyler ISD athletic director Greg Priest and confirmed this to the Tyler Morning Telegraph in a phone call.
"It was kind of a mutual thing. Coach Priest was very supportive and understood. I appreciate him giving me the opportunity to see if this would be a better fit for my family," Shirley said. "Navarro was looking for a coach after theirs had left and I think they had an idea I would want to eventually get back into college."
Shirley was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 2015 after she compiled 520 wins in 18 seasons as coach of Hutchinson CC (Kansas) and Tyler Junior College.
"I just know that my niche is college. I jumped in with both feet (at REL) but it was never me (at the high school level)," Shirley said. "I had former players come and watch me and even they said I wasn't the same. I know my love is at the college level."
Shirley completed her second season with the Lady Raiders as REL went 27-16 and reached the playoffs. It was an 11-win improvement on what REL did in her first year.
The Lady Raiders return many of the players who made last season special, including Shirley's daughter, Aliyah, who was named District 11-6A Newcomer of the Year as a freshman setter.
"The players were the reason that made this a difficult decision," Shirley said. "They bought in; they understood the leadership I wanted. It is not a reflection of them. I am very proud of them.
"It was very hard to tell them I was leaving because I feel like they put their trust in me to guide them and I kind of feel like I am letting them down. I wish the next person coming in the best of luck because I know we have a great group of girls and I am excited to see what they are going to do in the next couple years."
When Shirley took the job in 2015, making the decision to leave college coaching for a new challenge, she thought the move down in level would give her more time to be with her family.
Instead she found the rigors of high school to be much more than she anticipated.
"It is not an easy job. There a lot more obstacles at the high school level that you don't have at college level," Shirley said. "Whether its time constraints you have with the girls in training, travel restrictions - and restrictions with your time because you have to teach classes.
"Now at college I can solely focus on volleyball - recruiting for volleyball, study halls for volleyball and seminars for me to make me a better coach.
The 75-mile drive to Corsicana for Shirley means that Aliyah can stay at Lee with her mom going from coach back to cheerleader.
"This was the first time I have ever coached her. I really enjoyed coaching her this year," Shirley said. "I can cheer her on from the stands now because our games will be on different days than hers."
Shirley goes to Navarro to take over a program that went 6-31 last season.
"It's the same type of program everywhere I've gone, one that needs to be rebuilt," Shirley said of Navarro. "They didn't have a good season, but they have good player there.
I just love the Junior College level. There is something about it. It is very much a family feel. I know I can develop them and help them get their offers from 4-year colleges. Eighty-five percent of my kids go Division I. I think I love that part of it. Recruiting and knowing I can train them to (reach) the next level."
The move to Navarro also brings with it another interesting dynamic - facing her former player and assistant coach. Brandi Hood took over after Shirley departed and led the Apache Ladies to the NJCAA tournament this season, winning two matches to finish ninth.
"That will be weird. That's my former player, my All-American over there coaching against me," Shirley said. "(Brandi) is excited to play her mentor. I said you're excited because you know you're going to (beat us). I think they are happy to see me back in college."