By Ned Bekavac
It wasn’t all that long ago, really, that much of Melissa Monkhouse’s volleyball time was spent riding the pine.
Today, the Guelph native is a key cog on one of the top university teams in the country.
“I wasn’t good,” says Monkhouse, with a laugh, thinking back to her first times playing volleyball. “The first year I went to rep, in Grade 10, I sat on the bench the entire time.”
Monkhouse didn’t get her volleyball start until high school. A teacher noticed her height and recommended to Monkhouse, a basketballer at the time, that she give volleyball a whirl.
And look at her now.
The second-year player has chalked up 83 points this season for the 13-1 York Lions, currently the No. 5-ranked team in the country, and has played in 44 of the team’s 50 sets. Monkhouse opened the 2012-2013 OUA campaign earning the school’s Female Athlete of the Week honour and was named OUA Peak Performer after rip-roaring performances in the team’s season opening matches.
The 5-foot-11 player didn’t take the typical Guelph path to school sporting success.
After attending St-René-Goupil elementary school in town, Monkhouse went to high school in Hamilton, at Georges-P-Vanier, a small French school.
During her time there, she earned both senior and junior Athlete of the Year honours.
Monkhouse’s mom, Chantal, was born in Quebec and her dad, Bruce, in Guelph. Her sis, Jessica, is currently following in her footsteps – she’s earned several volleyball MVP honours at Vanier.
For Melissa, driving to and from Hamilton for high school every day wasn’t always ideal – she would get bussed in and sometimes bussed back, but if she had sports, she cabbed it back to Guelph, with the school picking up the tab.
But, ultimately, all that effort was worth it for her.
“Sometimes I was just like: ‘It’s not worth the trek, I don’t want to go,’ but in the end I figured getting my bilingual diploma – being officially bilingual – was worth it.”
As for her steady volleyball climb, Monkhouse says: “I’ve fought hard for it. I’ve improved my passing, and have worked on a lot of things.”
Monkhouse was back in town recently as her Lions were taking on the Guelph Gryphons in OUA volleyball play, and the Tribune served up a Q&A for her.
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Q: Your first days of competitive volleyball weren’t all that long ago. Can you share a neat or funny story about those early days?
A: I was always more of a basketball player, up until Grade 8, when the volleyball coach at Georges P. Vanier asked me if I would be willing to try out for the school’s volleyball team. I was horribly uncoordinated. It was just awful.
For some reason though, he saw potential in me and sent me to all kinds of volleyball camps that summer. He encouraged me and gave me the opportunities to keep improving. I owe many of my successes in volleyball to Marc Gaulin: ‘le meilleur coach au monde.’
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Q: The Trib’s paying the tab. What’s your tipple? And where would you be having it?
A: Hmm, does it sound childish to want to sip on Shirley Temples? And where? Well, I’ve never been outside of North America, so anywhere overseas would be quite alright with me.
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Q: What are the three most-played songs on your iPod?
A: I love ’70s and ’80s music! My dad basically raised me on Alice Cooper and Twisted Sister.
My top three songs would probably be something like ‘Heartbreaker’ by Pat Benatar, ‘If Looks Could Kill’ by Heart and ‘I Want It All’ by Queen.
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Q: What, specifically, has been the biggest highlight of your volleyball career so far?
A: After our home opening weekend, I got York’s Athlete of the week and OUA Peak Performer of the week; it felt so amazing and so unreal, it really is indescribable.
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Q: Alive or not, who are three famous people you’d like to have over for dinner and drinks?
A: Definitely Chuck Palahniuk, but maybe not over dinner. Chris Hemsworth, he doesn’t even need to say anything as long as he doesn’t mind my drooling, and Destinee Hooker – she’s such an amazing and dynamic volleyball player, I would love to get the chance to talk volleyball with her.
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Q: During the school year, how often are you back in Guelph and, aside from hanging out with family and friends, what are three must-do things for you upon return?
A: I don’t really get many opportunities to go back home during the season, but our team got the entire winter break off of practices and games this year, so I got to spend a lot of time at home then.
When I am home, first and foremost, I eat basically the entire contents of our fridge, then I move on to the pantries and finally I go over to friends’ houses and eat all of their food. Those are my three must-do things upon returning home.
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Q: It takes a heck of a lot of points to win a volleyball match, so we must ask: What is up with volleyball teams going absolutely hog-wild (ha) after every single point, even the one that makes it 1-0?
A: Volleyball is truly a mental sport. It’s all about confidence, energy and mental toughness. You learn to pick on players and attempt to break their confidence.
Every team in the OUA has great players with great abilities, but in the end, the team with the better mental discipline will most likely end up on top.
I think that as much as a team can get excited about a big play, the majority of cheering after every point is to further boost the energy and the confidence of your own team, while attempting to frazzle and upset the other team.
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Q: It’s a random Saturday night and you’re doing nothing volleyball related. What might you be up to?
A: I should probably say studying, but most likely watching movies at home with (York teammate) Michelle Pierce (#13).
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Q: OUA athletes spend a lot of time on the road. Can you share a cool story from your time on the bus or at least on the road?
A: Last year, on the road trip back from Windsor I believe, the veterans rookie-challenged all of the rookies (from the men’s and women’s teams) to attempt to fit into the little washroom on the coach bus.
There were about five guys with Michelle and I attempting to fit into this tiny little washroom.
The best part? We did it. Not easily, but we did.
• • •
Q: Where do you see yourself life-wise and volleyball-wise in, say, seven years?
A: Volleyball-wise, I hope to see myself playing overseas for a professional league; getting paid to do what I love. Life-wise, well, I’m not quite sure what I see myself doing, but I sure hope that whatever it is, it makes me happy.
• • •
Q: Thanks Melissa. Can you pass us your favourite . . .
• Band or musician: Heart
• Actor: Robert Downey Jr.
• Actress: Julia Roberts
• TV show: New Girl
• Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
• Food: Poutine and pizza – it’s a tie
• Drink: Tea. Any and every kind of tea
• Day of the week: Lazy Sundays
• Pro sports franchise: Toronto Maple Leafs
• Sport aside from volleyball: Soccer