Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kaley Melville Counting on Big-Time Experience Making an Impact


Stetson junior Kaley Melville is excited about the direction that sand volleyball is heading in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Playing in the no. 1 pair for the Hatters, Melville has been is some of the more exciting matches in the conference this season. Melville and partner Julie Bassett are 10-8 overall, but 2-3 in the A-Sun, and Melville attributes that in part to the ongoing improvement in the A-Sun’s talent and level of play.

Melville herself is a better player herself than a year ago, due to some degree by an experience she enjoyed last summer. Melville tried out and was hand-selected by USA Volleyball as one of just a few local athletes to travel to the West Coast for elite training at the USA Beach High Performance camp. For about six weeks, she spent eight hours a day practicing and competing on the beautiful California beaches with and against some of the top sand players in the country.

"It started with a tryout, similar to a combine in other sports when you have chance to show your skill set, they get a look at your height, your speed, and then you sit around and wait to get a call,” said Melville. “Then once you get there, each practice is a competition to choose one pair to play internationally. So you just keep training and competing. 

"I was out there for a month and a half basically sleeping on someone’s couch, so it was definitely the beach volleyball life," Melville said. "It was just a blast."

In addition to training on courts adjacent to Misty-May Treanor, Melville said one of the most exciting moments was competing in a qualifier for the Jose Cuervo Pro Tour. Despite being one of the youngest pairings, Melville and her partner advanced past the first round against a team that had international experience.

"In the next round, it was kind of funny, it was a close game but we got beat out by two moms in their 30s," Melville said. "The competition is very different between the West Coast compared to the East Coast. In the tournaments we play in, Florida State cleans up a lot of the time. On the West Coast it is crazy to see how they play at such a higher level. 

“You are killing yourself every day to make the squad, and it definitely gives you an idea of the level of competition out there. Getting the chance to play against the Pepperdines and to play with and against some phenomenal players really prepared me for what I want to accomplish in life."

Not bad for someone who just started playing sand volleyball a year ago. Sand competition came new to Kaley as the A-Sun became a leader in the NCAA’s newest emerging sport. The conference was the first in the NCAA to host a conference championship in sand volleyball, and this season the A-Sun will become the first to receive an automatic bid to the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship.

“I started playing last year when the A-Sun added sand, and I had never played competitively in sand before,” said Melville. “It is quite a challenge to make the transition between indoor and sand. I had always been trained with indoor technique, but I love outdoor because each player has more responsibility. It is either on your or your partner to make a play or not. It is about throwing your body around, getting your hand on the ball to keep it up and make a play.

“Plus, I am usually one of the taller girls when we play over here, but in California I am one of the smallest girls out there. I had to learn to play more defense really quickly, and it prepared me to play better defense and that experience has really benefited me this season.”

Melville hopes her summer experience pays dividends this weekend as she and the Hatters compete for the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference Sand Volleyball Championship in Jacksonville, Fla. The second-seeded Hatters opened the double elimination tournament against host Jacksonville at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Dolphin Beach Volleyball Courts.
Playing the first complete A-Sun regular season schedule, Melville has played with Julie Bassett in the No. 1 pairing all season…until two weeks ago. That is when Head Coach Tim Loesch made significant changes to the lineups, and Melville is interested to see the new chemistry develop. 

“I think he did that as a way to motivate us, and I like why he did that,” said Melville. “I think at first it freaked a lot of girls out, but we have had two weeks to adjust and I think it will be a good learning experience for all of us.”

One player in particular whose performance Melville is eager to watch this weekend is that of sophomore Savannah Byl. Paired with Katie DiGirolamo, Byl has a 2-0 record this season in dual match play and 5-1 in tournament pool play. 

“Savannah was a five last year who never saw the spotlight and c didn’t really get a chance to show her ability,” said Melville. “This season she came from nowhere and has been battling for a chance to play in the No. 1 pairing. She proves herself every match and I am anxious to see what she can do this weekend.”

Playing in the No. 1 pairing in every match, Melville sees the best the A-Sun has to offer, and has enjoyed tremendous competition with the 2012 A-Sun Pair of the Year Budinska and Medina from North Florida and this season’s pair, Strausbaugh and Nyquist from Jacksonville.

“I have enjoyed playing in the No. 1 spot all season, because the competition has been excellent. North Florida’s Anna and Dagnija play really well together and we always have great matches. Now Jacksonville’s pair has come up and is destroying people, so there could really be some blood matches this weekend now that the automatic bid is on the line.”

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