Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune File Photo
Fomer Madera Coyotes girls volleyball standout Kelsee Montagna rises up for a kill attempt during a 2011 match against Hoover-Fresno.
Every step in life Kelsee Montagna has taken, she has had success.
Although not without the hard work and dedication she has put into it, Montagna continues to succeed even now as the head indoor and beach volleyball coach at Cabrillo College in Aptos.
Montagna, who graduated from Madera High School in 2012, had gone on to have successful playing seasons at Cabrillo College and then took her success to Great Falls College in Montana before returning back to to coach at Cabrillo, where she led her team to back-to-back league championship.
“I have been successful and it’s been nice,” she said. “There’s so many things I want to succeed at and build a program here. I was in that weird funk here. I was hired adjunct and the position opened here for the first time in 15 years. Being younger and less experienced, I was really worried for eight months because that was how long the interview process was. I was in limbo because I didn’t expect the full-time position to open so early. I’m glad it did, obviously. That was my goal 10-plus years from now. It came a little fast. I had to sit down to figure out what I wanted to do next and where I want to go. I’m not going anywhere. What can I do here in the community for the next 10-plus years to establish a volleyball community?”
Montagna helped lead the Coyotes to the Div. II Central Section championship in 2011. In the five-set victory over Clovis North, Montagna had 11 kills, 24 digs, six blocks and three aces, including back-to-back aces that set up the championship-winning block.
From there, she helped lead Cabrillo to a state championship, becoming the first Northern California team to win the title while also going 32-0.
She then led the University of Great Falls (Now University of Providence) to their best season in school history.
“I was top 10 in the nation for blocks,” Montagna said. “Now, they surpassed us and they won more games. I stayed on there for my first master’s program as a graduate assistant. My little babies that I recruited graduated. They were two-time league champions and went to nationals. I’m a little bittersweet I couldn’t see it myself. I had to watch it through a screen.”
The last two seasons, she led Cabrillo to league championships. The volleyball team has won 122 straight league matches.
“A state championship would be nice,” she said. “I’ll take going to the state tournament a few times, though. I took over the beach program last year. Now, I’m full time. I’m a kinesiology instructor and the beach and indoor volleyball head coach.”
Montagna recently finished schooling for her second master’s degree and will be going for her doctorate, however not in the near future.
“I just don’t know when,” she said. “I want to say by next year I will start. I just finished my last masters program this summer. In high school, I probably should have concentrated on school more. I’ve never been someone to who’s like I can’t wait to be out of school. This last semester, I felt like that. I was so over it. This is the first semester that I have not been in school since that day I graduated. It feels like a really long time.”
While at Madera, Montagna didn’t really see coaching in her future, but is happy about her choice today.
“I didn’t see this in my future,” she said. “When I left Madera, I was lost, career-wise. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do broadcasting and stay around sports. I never thought I would coach. I coached after I left Madera, but it was club volleyball with little kids. When I was at Providence (Great Falls), I was the sports information assistant, worked at a TV station and I was the head recruiting coordinator and assistant volleyball coach. I got a taste of both medicines at the same time. I realized what the sports information was about. I covered national championships for wrestling. That was a ton of fun. The things I had to go through outside of championships and game days was absolutely terrible.”
Then, Montagna had to make a choice. She had an interview set up at two different jobs and doesn’t regret the decision she made.
“I had the option for an NAIA job at the national headquarters in Kansas City. Then, I also had a call into Cabrillo. I could take a flight to Kansas City for one interview or take a flight to Santa Cruz for this interview. I am so thankful I took the right one, I think, and came here.”
In addition to being a volleyball coach, Montagna is also a yoga instructor in the Santa Cruz/Aptos area.
“I found some of my passions here,” she said. “I’m a hot yoga instructor here, too. I’ve done many hours teaching it. It’s still a community, it’s still exercise and somewhat competitiveness. I don’t think I could ever not be around sports. I don’t know what I would do.”
Montagna has three pieces of advice she would give her high school self — be better in school, cherish the moment and learn how to be by yourself.
“I would tell myself to take time for yourself,” she said. “Take time to know what it is to be by yourself. You’re not missing out on much, even though you think you are. Be okay with being alone or be okay with not going out that night. You want to be a part of everything. It’s okay to not be with your friends on a Friday night. I wish I would have figured that out a year ago. Grades do reflect champions. My high school self should have had school a little more in front of my extra-crurricular activities. I would have told myself to stay in class. My grades were fine, but I wish I would have stuck it out and grinded a little more. Last, would be to enjoy the moment and the friends around you. Some aren’t going to be around in the next five-10 years. The last few classes, we’ve lost quite a few people to tragic situations. It’s hard to come back. All of us have kind of lost touch. Cherish the moment with those people. They aren’t going to be around one day. I flashed back to my graduation day. If I could do it again, I would have hugged every single senior, whether I knew their name or not. I was friends with so many people. I was never part of one specific group. I wish I would have cherished those moments a little more.”
She also tells people to go for something you want.
“For myself, working hard, being dedicated, being competitive were never a factor,” she said. “Those are three things people need to be. Be hungry for it. If you want something, you have to do it yourself. You can’t rely on other people. You can ask for help. Just do it and never second guess yourself.”
Currently, Montagna’s volleyball season was pushed back to spring of 2021 and hopes they can get the season in. Now, it’s all about the preparation for the upcoming season with her players.
“The NCAA is on the balancing beam on what they are going to do,” she said. “Our volleyball season is now in the spring so we will start practice in January. Right now, we are only allowed to have in-person workouts. We can train. The first few weeks we have are workouts outside and they will probably always be outside this semester. It’s about workouts and getting into a routine because I don’t think they’ve had a schedule in the last six months, as all of us have not. It’s just getting them physically in shape so when January comes, we can do those things. We will work on our team aspects in January. I don’t expect them to come in January to physically, mentally and emotionally be ready and be able to bind as a team. Fortunately for us, we have the beach so the girls go down there and play all the time. For us, we want to focus on the physical, bio-mechanical and technique this semester, as well as the mental game. We may have two days to have improving themselves as a person. Helping them find their niche, finding how to balance schoolwork and competing, asking for help, using their resources, getting out to the community and reading. I’m a huge reader, now. It really helps them explore and shift off normal schoolwork and activities. We’ve been working on mental preparedness. I want competitors, but I want them to be comfortable with who they are. It’s highly important to us, as coaches. Whatever skill level a coach is coaching at, it’s important for us to enrich these players and allow them to be who they are. I let them be them, but also help them become women when they leave. I want them know what they want to do in the next four-five years. We have an awesome family program at Cabrillo. Family can’t always get along, but we all understand each other.”
One of the ways she helped her players get to know themselves happened when the pandemic hit last semester.
“When COVID hit, one of their projects was they had to pick something they weren’t good at, practice it and become better at,” she said. “Everyone does this. One of my girls started making macramé (A form of textile using knotting techniques. Friendship bracelets and belts are popular macramé items). Now she sells it and has her own business. That’s what we want to empower. We want them to find something they might be good at and build on that. That girl feels like she wants to be an art teacher and we are looking at colleges with an art program. That’s one story that’s powerful. Obviously, we want to win and teach them about their body — with a little bit of yoga.”
Montagna hopes to have a season, but isn’t quite sure, although she’s ready to go tomorrow if they tell her to play.
“It’s 50-50 if we get a season in,” she said. “Indoor, do I have high hopes? Yes. Do I think it’s logical? Probably not. I do have hope, but we have to train like we are going to. Don’t be surprised if we get postponed until 2021, but not be shocked if we go for it. Indoor changes every week. It depends how California looks near December. I hope it looks good because these athletes need it. If we prolong it, it will be tough. Beach is a huge option to playing. That seems like it will be going. Right now, we’re playing on grass and doing what we can. I’m ready to go tomorrow. We haven’t really practiced our whole formations, yet. It’s very hopeful and that’s what everyone is living off of. Season starts January 3. What are we doing to get ready for that? For the players, we’re having a season. For me, I compete still on the beach. I couldn’t train at all this summer. I figured I wasn’t going to play so why train for it.”
Despite the pandemic, Montagna is excited about the upcoming season.
“This spring is going to very interesting,” she said. “If we are able to compete, it’s going to be lights out.”