Friends of former Destrehan volleyball coach Denise Keller remember her as someone who was witty and simply loved to have fun.
“That’s who she was,” said Jodee Pulizzano, head volleyball coach at ben Franklin and a former teammate of Keller’s at UNO. “She was a fun-loving, happy go lucky person. And she was the kind of person who would tell you what was on her mind and wouldn’t sugarcoat anything. She’ll be missed by everyone.”
Keller lost a 17-month battle with breast cancer on Monday morning.
She was 49.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday morning from 9-12 at St. Charles Boromeo in Destrehan, followed by a mass at noon.
Keller had coached Destrehan for eight years before being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer on August 1, 2013, right before the start of the season.
“She was a tough, tough lady,” said Destrehan principal Steve Weber. “She was a big part of our Destrehan family. She put up a fight.”
Keller’s daughter Alexis took over the team as coach as her mom began treatments.
“I am in training for the fight of my life, and I can honestly tell you I am not afraid,” Keller wrote on her Facebook page last year after being initially diagnosed. “I wish I could say it is because of my strong faith, but that would be a lie. I am not afraid because I am an athlete, (an old and worn out athlete, but none the less an athlete), and any true athlete will tell you they never believe they are going to lose. We fight to the last point, the last out, or until the horn sounds. So you see breast cancer is my opponent and the match has begun.”
Weber reflected on the relation ship between Keller and her daughter Alexis.
“My impression was that Alexis and Denise were best friends and not just mother and daughter,” Weber said. “The kids loved her. She was the ultimate competitor and she loved the girls and loved what she did.”
Keller led the team to a district championship and a trip to the playoffs in just her second season.
In 2010, Destrehan was a No. 9 seed in the Division I bracket and advanced to the quarterfinals, where they lost to eventual champion Mount Carmel. In 2011 Destrehan was the No. 3 seed and advanced to the quarterfinals against St. Joseph’s Academy. In 2012, the Wildcats were the No. 9 seed and lost to H.L. Bourgeois in the regional round.
“It was one of the best hires I ever made as far as a coach,” Weber said. “She was the consummate professional and she just loved the game. It wasn’t just about the wins and losses, even though she turned our program around and put us back on the map. That’s a testament to the family she built among our volleyball players. She is going to be missed.”