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Jon Mettus | The Bakersfield Californian | August 20, 2018

Young Cal State Bakersfield will have to ‘grow together' in 2018

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Like most coaches, Cal State Bakersfield volleyball coach Giovana Melo doesn't put much stock in preseason rankings, even when it's the Western Athletic Conference coaches that are polled. But when the Roadrunners were picked to finish third in the conference one year after winning the WAC Tournament, Melo was a little surprised – and not because she thought CSUB should have been picked higher.

"I actually saw us lower, to be honest," Melo said. "We don't have a lot of returners and the returners that we do ... didn't have big numbers before. Even though they were a big part of last year, they hadn't won any awards or anything like that."

The biggest challenge for Melo and her team will be replacing many of the pieces that made the 2017 squad successful. The Roadrunners graduated five seniors, including second team All-WAC members Sydney Haynes and Haylee Roberts, and WAC Tournament MVP Aleksandra Djordjevic.

The 2018 team's 17-player roster features seven newcomers (five freshmen and two junior college transfers) and two redshirt freshmen. Even CSUB's two seniors – Briannah Mariner and Mattison DeGarmo – are only in their second year with the Roadrunners. CSUB held its annual Blue-Gold Scrimmage on Saturday and will start the season in San Diego on Friday

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"This group is really going to be growing together," Melo said. "They have a bright future. It's just this year, we're gonna have to see some leaders step up that we haven't seen in the past."

On the court, one of the most difficult things to adjust to is the system that CSUB runs. It revolves around simplicity and minimizing movements. Most of the techniques are simple, the offense is designed to move fast (not with high, slow passes) and the team has just one type of defense.

The practices aren't complex and full of a wide variety of drills. The team does a few different things and it does them often. Melo jokes with her players that the drills are like brushing their teeth because they're basic and daily.

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In the coach's mind, the simplicity should mean a very easy transition. Mariner, DeGarmo and redshirt junior Sydney Wicks all noted that just the idea of changing styles is difficult for players coming in.

"It's changing and new for new people, but we have been focusing on it," Wicks said.

Last season, Melo focused on "the process" with her team, urging them to get a small percentage better each day rather than looking at the end goal. It was a change in philosophy from her first three years at CSUB. It led to a trip to Stanford for the NCAA Tournament.

This year, she's at it again, preaching the process "more than ever."

"To get better with a young team, we have to take small steps," Melo said.

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It's too early to tell who will have big roles or who is standing out in practice, Melo said, but she noted the team came into fall practice in better physical shape than in the past. She mentioned the competitive nature of her players stood out during six-on-six drills, but also that competitiveness without skill doesn't equal success.

"We know what we have to do and how much we have to work to get to where we were last year," Melo said.

This article is written by Jon Mettus from The Bakersfield Californian and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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