at NCAA First Round
Kelley Sliva McKee enters her second season at the helm of the Lobo volleyball program.
Sliva McKee, who arrived at New Mexico last fall after nine successful years at Northern Arizona University, led a young Lobo team to a 10-21 record in 2002. Under her tutelage in just one season, outside hitter Anna Reines became the first Lobo to earn all-conference honors since 1998, Chelsea Sondrup set a new school record with 131 block assists and Monica Meihack tallied the second most assists in school history. In addition, four Lobos were named to the All-Academic Mountain West Team.
“This was a great step for me both personally and professionally,” said Sliva McKee. “There is a commitment to excellence both on and off the court from the top down. I believe we can revitalize the Lobo volleyball program.”
In her nine years at Northern Arizona, she posted a career record of 143-104 (.579) and a 79-57 mark in the Big Sky. Sliva McKee’s NAU teams recorded five straight winning seasons before her departure, going 90-45 during that span.
While at NAU, Sliva took the Lumberjacks to their first NCAA Volleyball Championship appearance (1999) and earned two Big Sky titles (1999 tournament and 2000 regular season). Sliva McKee was named the 1999 Big Sky Coach of the Year.
Sliva McKee’s enthusiasm for the game is an asset, not only for her players, but for Lobo fans as well. This year’s team is looking to improve upon last season and rebuild the program to those of years past. The coaching staff, which includes assistant Brent Aldridge and new assistant Chelsea Robb, feels the necessary ingredients are in place to begin the construction of a new volleyball era.
“We’re starting over and we’ve made a long term commitment to the development of this program, both on and off the volleyball court,” stated Sliva McKee. “The priorities of the program are academics, volleyball and social growth. Our long term goals for these players is to get a degree, get a job and become financially independent. But at the same time we’re going to work, work, and work to win a conference championship.”
Another reason Sliva McKee feels success is right around the corner is due to her coaching staff.
“I really feel like I’m in a groove right now, and the main reason is because of what Brent and Chelsea bring to the table,” Sliva McKee said. “As a staff we have a lot of fun. We know each other’s strengths, we know the game and we work well together.” Overall in her nine years at NAU, her .579 winning percentage lists eighth all-time in Big Sky Conference history and is fourth-best among those who have at least three years in the conference. However, over the last five seasons, Sliva McKee was even better after posting a .667 (90-45) mark, which is the third-most successful five-year stretch at a Big Sky school. Sliva McKee is one of only five coaches in Big Sky history to have won 75 conference matches, and is the only coach to lead NAU to five straight winning seasons, including five straight seasons of 16 or more wins.
While at NAU the Lumberjack volleyball program earned 31 Academic All-Big Sky Conference honors and 75 NAU Golden Eagle Scholar Athlete Awards for a minimum 3.00 grade-point average - more than three times the total number of Golden Eagle honors in 15 years of the award prior to Sliva McKee's arrival (23). The program posted semester GPAs of 3.00 or better 12 times in 17 semesters (through fall 2001) under Sliva McKee and cumulative GPAs of 3.00 or better 10 times. Every scholarship student-athlete that exhausted eligibility under Sliva McKee while at NAU graduated.
Building a program that is strong academically has been a priority for Sliva McKee. But she has dedicated herself, her staff and student-athletes to success in the community as well thanks to community outreach, marketing and corporate sales contained within the program itself. That hard work, which has included pounding pavement and burning phone lines, has developed a consistent and loyal following. At the end of her tenure at NAU, the Lumberjacks were listed among the nation's top-50 in attendance.
Priorities this season include involving the volleyball team in the Albuquerque community. Part of this is simply by reaching out. The team will be part of major community-service projects such as “Read with the Lobos”, in which student-athletes visit area schools to read to children.
Sliva McKee was part of the school’s "Lumberjack Court" project at NAU, which was a vital part of the program's community outreach. Sliva McKee led the campaign to sell the 33 tables that surrounded the Rolle Activity Center court, providing banner space and seating for those who joined the "Court." She constructed the "Lumberjack Court" project in 1996 and it was one of the consistent successes among the athletics department's development ideas.
Since 1995, Sliva McKee's charges produced the best home-court record in the Big Sky Conference (69-13, .841) and the team came off back-to-back record home-court seasons of 10-1 (.909). Under Sliva McKee, NAU won at least 10 home matches each of the last six years and was 20-2 (.909) the last two seasons and 31-4 (.886) the last three campaigns. The biggest factor in that home-court success was the Lumberjacks' dominance of non-conference opponents. Over the last seven seasons, NAU compiled an impressive 26-2 (.929) home record against non-league foes and won the last nine interleague encounters, which included the last six Fiesta Bowl Tournament matches en route to the last two team titles.
In postseason action, Sliva McKee led a young NAU squad to what was the biggest upset in league tournament history in 1996, as sixth-seeded NAU upended No. 3 seed Eastern Washington in the first round, giving the Lumberjack program its first league tournament win. In 1997, the Lumberjacks went a step further, winning two matches to advance to the program's first league tournament final, falling to host Sacramento State after an emotionally and physically draining epic.
The Lumberjacks were the Cinderella story of the league tournament following their 1999 odyssey. Entering the event as a No. 4 seed, NAU became the lowest seed ever to win the league tourney title, topping No. 5 seed Montana, No. 2 EWU in the semifinals and rallying from 2-1 down in games to defeat No. 6 Cal State Northridge in the final, earning the program's first tournament crown and the team's first NCAA tourney berth.
In 2000, NAU rallied from an 0-3 league start with 11 wins in 12 matches to earn a share of the program's first Big Sky regular-season title.
Sliva McKee came to NAU in 1993 following a five-year stint on Lisa Love's staff at Texas-Arlington and USC. The Sliva McKee-Love tandem led UTA and USC to four NCAA tournaments and the 1991 USC recruiting class was named "Best in the West" by Volleyball magazine.
A graduate of Tucson Catalina High School, Sliva McKee graduated from Arizona in 1985 with a degree in exercise and sport science. Kelley and her husband, Vince McKee, married earlier this year.