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Cal State East Bay senior volleyball star Roxanne Neely is this month's Tri-City Voice Sports Female Athlete of the Month for her contributions in September. In the Lady Pioneers' opening month of the season, Neely led the team to a 9-3 record and, at one point, the 24th ranking in the country. In addition to the team's high praise, Neely got individual accolades from the CCAA as week two's top player.
Neely, 20, is an international studies major at East Bay. She is a native of Lancaster where she helped guide the Lancaster High School Eagles volleyball team to a Golden League title in her senior year, as well as earning league MVP honors as a setter and outside hitter. She continues to succeed four years into her stint with East Bay. Through 12 games in September, Neely has accumulated 68 kills, 179 assists, 11 aces and 83 digs.
"Roxanne has been the engine that sparks Cal State East Bay volleyball for the past three and a half years," said Neely's coach Jim Spagle. "Her athletic ability, power and energy have been dynamic, and a direct correlation to our program's early success."
Tri-City Voice was fortunate to catch up with Neely and get to know her a little better, both on and off the court. Here's what she had to say.
Tri-City Voice: When did you first get into volleyball?
Roxanne Neely: I started volleyball in the eighth grade. I had to decide between doing volleyball or Tae Kwon Do because the club practices conflicted, I'd completed my black belt by that time so I decided to try out volleyball. I've done and tried a bunch of different sports and I don't know why I ended up choosing volleyball, I remember my P.E. teacher was also the basketball coach at my middle school and enjoyed her company, I still have some contact with her. My seventh grade year I wanted to play but was late for the tryout and too shy to walk in late, so I postponed trying out until eighth grade.
TCV: How were you when you first started out; and did you think you would become the celebrated player that you are today?
RN: In middle school I believe I started out as just playing "around" on the court, no specific position. I saw what the setter was doing and said, "Hey, I bet you I can do that too, I want to do that." So I showed my coaches that I was capable and strong enough to "set", thinking it was just pushing this volleyball round for other people to smack over the net. When I started club that same year, my coach thought that my height and athleticism was ideal as a setter or libero (even though I've always worked to break those stereotypes by being a hitter as well). I did a lot of camps to speed up the process of learning the game, becoming a setter, and seeing what is expected at the college level. I did my best to mimic these older players that we'd practice with from the university's camps.
I wasn't sure how talented I was or what strengths I had as a volleyball player until I received comments of my physical strength, skills and abilities from these camp coaches and my own coaches. I did not expect to get recruited early and wasn't sure how getting recruited worked, but I thought I was capable of playing in college from having played with other college athletes at the local J.C. and playing with the university team's athletes through the camps. Camps: Long Beach State setters camps five years; UNLV, UCLA (2); ASU, OU, UCSB, Long Beach State skills camps (3).
TCV: What is your ideal position on the volleyball court
RN: I have a few favorite positions. I love playing defense and not allowing the other team to get a kill. I love getting on the floor and sprinting all out for balls that seem impossible to keep in play.
I love setting because the team depends on your decisions and trusts you to know what's happening with the whole game. The setter is always conscious about the other side's weaknesses and I love to "juke" the other team's blockers with the deceptiveness of the set. I love hitting because I like to break the typical hitters stereotype. I'm about 5'7" but powerful and like to keep up with and push my teammates to be as strong and explosive as me.
TCV: What is your favorite feat to achieve on the floor -- kill, ace, assist or dig?
RN: A kill. When your team has worked so hard to get that dig and the setter works to get that set, the best way to thank them is by getting a kill. Getting an assist is also a favorite because your hitters are depending on you to set them up for success. There is a strong relationship with your hitters and knowing that your hitters trust you is the best feeling.
TCV: What are your goals in this, your senior year, with the Lady Pioneers volleyball team?
RN: My goals have changed throughout the season with the changes and progressions that our team has made so far. My goal has changed from being not only the best player I can be, to bringing up the new players so that they can be the best they can be for the upcoming years. Last year, I did my best to be the best I could be and I had a great season. This year, I'm helping my team prepare for the years to come on and off the court and want the team's success to continue after the seniors and I have left.
TCV: How long do you intend to play volleyball?
RN: I've always been passionate about other languages and cultures and plan on continuing playing abroad without a doubt. There are a few more years of post-graduate schooling that I plan on completing and after which I will decide whether or not to continue playing or coaching. I love the idea of learning about other cultures and doing it while playing volleyball, living off something you love.
TCV: How about outside of volleyball -- what are your goals in your final academic year?
RN: I plan to finish this year with a B.A. in international studies and then continue onto a M.A. in organizational behavior through a program stationed in Israel. I also plan to do another study abroad to learn Arabic for a year. I speak Farsi fluently and would like to continue learning Arabic and Hebrew.
TCV: What are your plans after you are done playing?
RN: This year after volleyball is finished, I'm excited to be coaching for the first time and finally being on the "other side" and helping girls grow up and become great "ballers" through my experiences throughout my career.
TCV: If you are not playing volleyball, which sport are you playing?
RN: My second sport has been Judo since I was 6. I stopped in high school because of the time commitments that volleyball demanded. Judo is a sport that requires a lot of training and a lot of time attending tournaments all over the world. I was an international competitor and one of my highest achievements was being ranked No. 8 in the country in my weight division at 16 years old.
TCV: Do you have any hobbies you like to do in your free time?
RN: I like to play the piano, and touch on the guitar. I love reading up on new ways of training for particular sports and being physically healthy through good nutrition. I also love designing and decorating and would like to do it professionally eventually.
TCV: Do you have any heroes/idols?
RN: My dad was a great athlete and reached great levels in his athletic career in track and field (which I also participated in during high school) and has been a huge mental coach for my sports and life coach for my future.
OK, time for favorites.
TCV: Favorite TV show/movie?
RN: Intervention, That 70's show, Whose Line is it Anyways, Americas Next Top Model, Snapped. Not a huge fan of reality shows because I can't keep up with the drama.
Movies: Contact, Shutter Island, and almost every musical.
TCV: Favorite food?
RN: Being half Iranian from my mother's side, I love all Persian foods. I'm glad that the community I chose to live in (Hayward, Fremont) has the largest Afghan community in the country -- so home foods are always easy to find.
TCV: Favorite musicians/bands?
RN: Lots. Eric Clapton, Craig David, David Guetta, Celine Dion, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Johnson, Incubus, Michael Jackson.
TCV: What is playing in your iPod right now?
RN: "Alors on Danse" by Stromae, a song popular in international music that I heard a lot from being overseas this summer.
TCV: Favorite sport?
TCV: Favorite sports team/player?
RN: Christiano Ronaldo.
Thanks Roxanne and good luck in the rest of your season.