I sat down with one of the most talented, hard-working people I know: my cousin, Olivia Montelisciani. She is a senior at Morehead State University in Kentucky, where she plays Division 1 volleyball.
She signed up for volleyball in 3rd grade but didn’t start playing competitively until eighth grade when she fell in love with the sport.
“I like that it’s a really good escape during busy days. Playing helps me get my nervous energy out,” she said.
Olivia got recruited at one of her practices when coaches from her university came to watch another girl on her team. She was on the fence about playing D1 because of the immense pressure and work-school balance. But, when her mother asked her, “Can you see your life without volleyball?” she knew what she had to do.
The Morehead State Eagles won their conference last year and ended up playing in the NCAA tournament.
“It was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced,” Olivia said, “It has been my life goal since I was a kid. Being there and actually experiencing it felt like a dream.”
Although Olivia absolutely loves the sport, she has struggled mentally with all the pressure that comes with playing so competitively.
“I don’t think the mental health of athletes is talked about enough. Physical health is always made a higher priority than mental health—we have physical trainers but not sports psychiatrists.”
When she first started playing Division 1 volleyball, the thought of so many people watching her every move took a toll on her mental health. The outside pressures to perform a certain way and reach certain standards were not easy thoughts to push away.
“There have been times I felt like I couldn’t mentally perform but I’ve had to suck it up because it’s the norm,” she said.
Olivia brought up the 2021 Tokyo Olympics where gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from multiple events in order to look after her mental health.
“I commend what Simone Biles did,” Olivia said, “It’s the first time I’ve seen an athlete put their mental health first.”
Olivia spoke about her mental health during COVID-19, saying it was one of the toughest years of her life.
Olivia said, “I’m a social person and there were a lot of adjustments to be made because I didn’t play for a full year. It caused extra nerves because I couldn’t get my energy out the same way—we could practice but not play in games, so it felt like I was practicing for nothing.”
It took time and a lot of strength, but Olivia finally learned how to deal with the pressures of being a competitive athlete.
“I started doing positive affirmations. I was always reminding myself that there’s more to life than just the sport that I play and I am more than my performance,” Olivia stated. “When you start realizing how you do and who is watching you doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things, it helps you realize that you don’t have to be perfect. No one is capable of being perfect.”
Even after she graduates this spring and starts working full-time, Olivia plans to incorporate volleyball into her everyday life. She intends to coach or join an adult league.
Olivia explained, “It has been such a great escape from reality I don’t think I will ever be able to give it up.”