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Madera Valley Champ returns to college

For The Madera Tribune

Kelsee Montagna.


She has been a winner every step of her career.

She helped the Madera Coyotes girls volleyball team win a Valley Championship in 2011. She then went to Cabrillo College and helped them win a State Championship. From there, she went to Great Oak University in Montana and earned All-Conference accolades.

Now, former Madera Coyote Kelsee Montagna is returning to Cabrillo University to become its newest head coach.

“Hopefully, the winning continues,” she said. “When I played at Cabriillo, I also coached. I’ve always been in the club world. I always knew I wanted to coach, but not sure if I wanted to coach this soon in my life.”

Montagna was the captain of the Cabrillo Seahawks in 2012 and 2013 when she led Cabrillo to the state championship, the first Northern California team to win the state championship and go undefeated.

She then went to play at University of Great Falls and later became a graduate assistant and recruiting coordinator at the University of Providence. She also was the club director of the Great Falls Zootown Volleyball Club.

“I really enjoyed working with the club volleyball players,” Montagna said. “On the other side of things, I was a waitress, and doing Sports Information Director work. I really thought I wanted to do that. Hands down. I was applying for internships all across the country. I was getting good call backs, including from the NAIA headquarters.”

Montagna was at a crossroads earlier this year, wondering if she should pursue a career as a sports information director or work in broadcasting.

“I didn’t feel that I was doing much with my life,” she said. “Volleyball and sports, in general, pushed me to where I am right now. It took me to Montana and Aptos, which I never knew I would go. All of the things brought to me in high school taught me sports is a good way to connect with kids. It’s kind of crazy how it came into play. I definitely knew I wanted to coach. I didn’t think I would be a college head coach as fast as I am. I didn’t have that in the plans. I don’t have a problem tackling on big things. I’m definitely related to the new job.”

She was still going back and forth about what she wanted to do.

“We were driving through Spokane and we were bouncing off ideas about what I wanted to do,” Montagna said. “That was the weekend.”

On the following Monday, Montagna contacted Cabrillo coach Gabrielle Houston Neville and asked if she was looking for an assistant and to keep her in mind. She found out, Houston-Neville was looking for a replacement.

“She said she was looking for someone and she was ready pass on the torch,” Montagna said. “She said we’ll keep you in mind and let you know. It was like I definitely made the right decision. I couldn’t have had a better situation come out. I was really scared about what I was going to do next. I didn’t want to leave Montana because I had great kids. I didn’t just want to come around and give up an opportunity or pray for an opportunity. It kind of just happened there was an opportunity to come home to. It was pretty cool.”

While Houston-Neville moved on to pursue something bigger, Montagna is happy to step into her mentor’s shoes.

“She’s been there for 10 years and has done some amazing things,” she said.

At first, Montagna was signed on to be a co-coach with Yelena Skazka.

“We kind of had an agreement that one of us had to be in charge, for not only everyone, but for our girls in the program,” Montagna said. “It’s really important for the hierarchy. You need someone to look to when things go rough. When it’s two people, you can put the blame on each other. When it’s one, you’re the one they look to and the one who’s there to help them, whether it’s good and bad. The other girl that is coming over with me is very talented. She’s played with the Russian travel team overseas. She knows the game very well. I’m very excited about coaching with someone like her. She’s older than me. I can learn a lot from her and she can learn a lot from me and we can have a great program to continue.”

Montagna was hired in May as a co-coach and was announced as the head coach in the first week of July. She is the second former Coyote who is a head college volleyball coach (Courtney (Taubert) Matarazzi at Fairmont State University in West Virginia).

“It feels like a life’s dream,” she said. “I always joked about it when I was there. I told them to keep a position open. I’ll do anything to come back once I figured out what I wanted to do. As soon as I did come back, it was awesome. To be back closer to home and have this opportunity is amazing at this age. I’m very excited.

“I met with the girls, talking and figuring out what was going on next year. I told them I played for the program and mentored by Gabby. She is a big piece of me. I love her coaching style and what she brings out in the girls. That’s the kind of coach I want to be. It’s scary for the girls, as well, to have someone taking over the program. They feel kind of secured that we’re not going to try to change a program that’s not broken. We want to continue the success and tweak it a little with coaching styles. We’re not there to change the program drastically. It’s been the same for 11 years and we want to keep the same way to keep it going up.”

Montagna is excited about the next year because Houston-Neville didn’t leave the cupboard bare.

“I have a really good core eight coming back,” she said. “We’re still recruiting to get some freshmen coming in. The sophomores coming back are tremendous. I am so thankful Gabby brought those girls back. The girls are hard working. They are mentally engaged and they want to win. That’s something you can’t really coach. To really coach someone who is not mentally able to push beyond just winning is hard. These players have gone through experiences of how to win and how to push full throttle.”

Montagna knows what volleyball has done for her and will try to use that philosophy to help her players.

“The biggest thing with volleyball was I got a huge education,” she said. “I got my undergrad and masters paid for, which a lot of people can’t say. The biggest thing for me is now I want, for my own goals always competing, want to get my PhD. Volleyball and athletes has taught me to keep going. Don’t ever be satisfied. That’s what I want to teach my players. There’s always more room to grow and chase after everything you can. That’s kind of my philosophy. It hasn’t hit me the last two weeks with moving from Montana, hanging out at home and to Cabrillo. I don’t every want to ever feel satisfied. I want to keep going and push along.”

Montagna’s biggest fans (her family) were ecstatic that she is a drive away in Aptos rather than a flight.

“They thought I was lying at first,” she said. “They were pretty excited. So was I. They couldn’t see a lot of my games in Montana. I was the leading blocker in my conference and made first team all league. It was hard for them to be away and watch through the TV. They are very excited to see me back in California, especially at Cabrillo. I have a great connection with the staff. They’ve taken real good care of me while I was there. They were kind of my second family. We’re stoked to be back in California.”


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