Four years ago, when Cal State Bakersfield was hiring a new women’s volleyball coach, Thomas Wallace met Giovana Melo. Immediately following that one-on-one interview, Wallace, the vice president for student affairs at CSUB, knew Melo was the right fit for the Roardrunners moving forward.
The qualities were obvious. Melo, the head coach at Western Nebraska Community College at the time, won a junior college national championship with the Cougars. That is always a resume eye catcher, Wallace said.
Wallace added that Melo displayed a sincere investment in her players that went beyond simply winning volleyball matches.
“There’s a genuine care and concern for the student-athlete. More-so of them being young-ladies and students than them being volleyball players,” Wallace said.
“Make them winners in and out of the classroom, and also on the court.”
That analysis has proven to be correct, as the Roadrunners have qualified for two NCAA Tournament berths over the past four years. The latest postseason installment comes Friday, when CSUB visits defending national champion Stanford at 7 p.m.
At the time of Melo’s hiring, the Roadrunners were entering the Western Athletic Conference after being an independent Division I program. They needed a boost. And Melo, who also brings a feisty, competitive nature to the court, has done the trick in terms of getting them into the postseason.
Her straight-forward talk, team-first attitude, and commanding presence has rubbed off on the program.
For Melo, it’s all about getting buy-in from every member of roster.
Some examples include no cell phones at team dinners — “I want them talking to each other,” she said; players wearing matching CSUB apparel at practice, on road trips, and during team meals; that all members of the team must be present at practice, even if a change in time has been instituted; that players switch positions to accommodate the team, if such change is required; valuing versatility over specialization on the court; and playing on the CSUB beach volleyball team in the offseason to continue fine-tuning individual skills.
“It’s not about them, it’s about the person next to them. It’s a big thing,” Melo said. “It takes a lot for them to get there. Especially this group this year. New kids coming in. Not just freshmen but also transfers. To get them thinking that way takes a while.”
For Melo, it’s about having the team equal more than the sum of its collective parts. The Roadrunners — most likely — won’t out-recruit the Stanfords, UCLAs and Floridas of the world. But the program also believes in the concept that a strong unit, a cohesive collective identity, can go a long way.
Melo said upon arriving at CSUB, getting the right coaching staff that was supportive of her vision was important. She then said getting the right players was of equal vitality.
“Sometimes you can get talented kids. But what differentiates them is what they’re willing to do to take the program to the next level and win championships,” Melo said.
The Roadrunners believe that mantra is what won them their second WAC title. The team knocked off No. 1-seed New Mexico State 3-1 and No. 2-seed Texas-Rio Grande Valley 3-1 to take home the crown in Edinburg, Texas.
“That’s what I was about from the beginning,” Melo said. “We didn’t have one player or two players that would be the players to take us. It was going to have to be a team effort. Once they realized that, it happened in the WAC championship.”
Perhaps it was best encompassed by Aleksandra Djordjevic, when she said of Melo, “She definitely knows what she wants, and what she’s doing.”
Similar to Wallace, Djordjevic spoke about the family atmosphere that Melo has instituted, and said players go the extra mile for her.
“It’s not hard for other people to buy in,” she said. “We see how important this program is for her, and we all put our hearts into it.”