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Melissa Hess in Austria
Former Maverick volleyball player Melissa Hess, right, is continuing her athletic career in Austria.


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Alumna Melissa Hess follows a passion for volleyball to Austria

Melissa Hess's collegiate volleyball career didn't end quite the way she hoped it would. The Colorado Mesa University Mavericks won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular season and conference tournament titles and were one match away from advancing to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Elite 8 when they were upset by the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.

But the match would not be the last for Hess, a native Arizonan who earned All-American honors her senior season at CMU. She embarked on a trip to Europe, her first time traveling outside the United States, in hopes of landing an international contract.

She landed in Milan, Italy, with 25 other American players who spent two weeks competing and adjusting to the European lifestyle. After a few days of practice, the newly formed team traveled to Maribor, Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia, for its first taste of competition.

"Maribor was absolutely gorgeous," said Hess. "We stayed a hotel at the base of a ski mountain which had a gym. We played several Slovenian teams from around the area to give coaches the opportunity to watch us in person or online."

Hess received many offers to keep playing that season, but she turned everyone down.

"The European season runs from September until the end of April,” she said. “These teams were looking for players to compete immediately and finish off the season. I kept telling them no because I wanted to finish my degree. I wasn't going to throw my hard work out the window just to play for a couple months." She returned to CMU without a contract to complete her exercise science degree.

In late summer, Hess’ talent agent suggested a second trip to Europe and soon she was on a plane headed back to Slovenia. There, she once again practiced and played matches in the hopes of landing a contract with a team. Following a match with North Korea’s military team, she met with an agent and landed a spot with Austria’s Klagenfurt Wildcats.

Joining the Wildcats has been a bit of an adjustment. Hess is one of the oldest players on the team — three of her teammates are 15 — and one of only two Americans. She said that the level of competition and work ethic is much lower than what she was used to at CMU.

She credits the Maverick volleyball coaches with making her transition to the Austrian team a little less bumpy.

"Dave Fleming and David Skaff both turned me into a coachable athlete. My freshman year at CMU I was stubborn and didn't respond to criticism well,” she admitted. “But by not giving up on me, they finally broke through, which is extremely helpful now because my coach is … trying to change my technique to the European way and I've found a way to make … him happy and not change my game completely.”

Hess has struggled a little with the language barrier and Austrian mannerisms. "You never know if someone speaks English,” she said. “You might go ask a stranger a question and they just look at you and walk away. Sometimes I even use my German but I don't know enough to continue.”

She spends her free time doing extra workouts, taking weekly German lessons and exploring Klagenfurt. She said her experience as an out-of-state student at CMU student has helped her in Europe.

"Going to school away from home gave me the ability to be independent and pursue what I want without holding me back, or depending on others to help get me there," Hess said.

 

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Media Contact

Ian Marks, Sports Information Director

imarks@coloradomesa.edu

970.248.1143 (o)

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