Seaside >> Maureen Melhart wasn’t pleased with a recent morning volleyball practice. In fact, the CSU Monterey Bay coach called it one of the worst of the early season.

Expectations change when you get a taste of success.

Last season, the Otters found themselves in uncharted waters, qualifying for their first ever California Collegiate Athletic Association postseason tournament.

“I believe it takes times to develop great things,” Melhart said. “Our focus is trusting the process. Now we have to find a way to embrace the challenge and expectations and not run from it. Trust the hard work and let the matches be fun.”

The Otters will open their season Thursday in Idaho, facing Northwest Nazarene in a tournament that will showcase some of the top Division II programs in the Western Region.

“With who we are playing and being on the road for our first nine matches, it will be a battle and a test,” Melhart said. “It’s our toughest preseason. I set it up that way for a reason.”

In part, because Melhart has 13 returning players, including six seniors on a roster that posted a 14-13 record last year (an improvement in the win column for the third straight year under Melhart) and is fourth in this year’s CCAA preseason north volleyball poll.

“The only concern I have as a coach is because we have such high expectations, we are hard on ourselves,” Melhart said. “Practices are intense. I don’t mind that. In fact, I want that. But I want them to enjoy this experience.”

The Otters earned respect last fall when they swept Chico State at home, then fell to them in five sets on the road. They also took CSU East Bay to five sets before falling twice.

Both those programs have been a thorn in the Otters’ side since Melhart took over the program four years ago.

“Losing that five-set match to Chico State still leaves a sour taste in our mouth,” Melhart said. “This is by far the most competitive we’ve been in our gym in practice with the talent we’ve developed.”

Among that talent is senior Anela Visesio, who has evolved into one of the premier hitters in the conference. Last season the 6-foot-2 former Seaside High hitter compiled a career-high 274 kills. She will go into the season 37 kills shy of 700 for her career.

“I have seen us take so many steps forward since I got here,” Visesio said. “I feel we’ve laid down a foundation for the future. The program is bigger than any one of us.”


Visesio is a force at the net, bruising fingers that get in the path of one of her big swings.

“Teams are going to target Anela and try and shut her down,” Melhart said. “We know that. But we have four or five other hitters that can help her.”

Melhart also has one of the conference’s top setters in San Benito graduate Erica Chapa, who arrived last fall from Gavilan College and made an immediate impact with her precise sets.

“I remember watching my first college volleyball game here as a freshman in high school,” Chapa said. “My coach asked me if I thought I could play here. I said ‘heck no.’”

Named CSUMB’s Top Female Newcomer of the Year last season, Chapa was second in the conference with 955 assists — the third best mark in school history.

“I look around at my setting choices and I feel good about setting anyone,” Chapa said. “I don’t feel any limitations at all. We’ve had an entire offseason under our belt.”

In addition to Visesio roaming the front row, the Otters have a healthy Chandler McKean back at the net. The 6-1 middle blocker was among the top 10 in the conference in hitting efficiency last fall before an ankle injury limited her mobility.

“She never got back to full strength,” Melhart said. “But she’s never looked better. She’s going to put up big numbers. We have an arsenal of hitters.”

That includes three-year starter Samantha Brennan, who went 11 straight matches last year without committing a single hitting error.

“She a very smart hitter,” Melhart said.

Depth in the front row for Melhart includes a trio of sophomores who have earned time on the court: Jenna Tobin, Baylie Pierson and Hannah Haveman.

“All three have grown so much in a year,” said Melhart, who credited their development to assistant coaches Dane Holmgren and Ari Lysacek. “They are still learning to contribute at this level. But all three are going to have an impact on our season.”

All have followed the lead of Visesio, a former three-time member of The Herald’s All County Volleyball team while at Seaside.

“My whole thing is I’m not a vocal leader,” Visesio said. “I’m the person that will show it through my actions. I’ve continued to grow with the program. It’s bittersweet being a senior.”

The Otters have one of the conference’s top returning liberos in Ashlynne Armstrong.

Last year the 5-10 senior compiled 455 digs, finishing No. 2 in the conference in digs per set. She is 18 digs shy of 1,000 for her career.

“We brought her here to be an outside hitter and she made the transition,” Melhart said. “She’s been the anchor in our back row. She controls the pace. When she’s on, nothing can stop us.”

While talk of returning to the postseason, challenging for supremacy in conference and overcoming obstacles is discussed in practice, it’s not the vision.

“Our process is what matters,” Chapa said. “To achieve our goals, you have to have the work ethic. We just have to take care of today first. The small things are what matters. Practice matters.”

John Devine can be reached at 831-726-4337.


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