Grace Melnick commits to D1 UNCW
Shake the Melnick family tree and out falls a bevy of high-calibre volleyball players.
Found in the highest branches is mother, Dale Ann Melnick, who won two Southeastern Conference championships as a scholarship player at the University of Georgia and followed it up with three Ontario University Athletic crowns at York.
The first to follow Dale Ann, who coached with the junior national team for six years and was head coach of Canada’s Youth team that won a silver medal at Norcecas 2018 to qualify for worlds for the first time in 30 years, was oldest son Dallas. He was rookie of the year with the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association champion St. Thomas Tommies and features a spin serve clocked in excess of 100 km-h.
Youngest son Parker has just started on his travel volleyball journey, but 17-year-old daughter Grace has already risen to incredible heights. The Grade 12 student at A.N. Myer recently spent September to December in Richmond, B.C., training with Volleyball Canada’s National Excellence Program and this fall will head to University of North Carolina Wilmington to play NCAA Division 1 volleyball.
Mom is extremely proud of all of her kids, especially her daughter.
“To see my daughter earn that Volleyball Canada jacket was simply awesome,” Dale Ann said. “It far outweighs anything I have done, for sure.”
Despite her roots as a player and coach, the former head coach of the Brock women’s team never pushed her kids into the sport.
“We all started playing at 14U (14 and under) because my mom wanted us to experience other sports on our own,” Grace said. “She didn’t want to force us into playing volleyball. She wanted to ensure that it was something that we really wanted to do. We all fell in love with it and now we are all playing.”
The 6-foot-1 middle started playing club volleyball with the Niagara Rapids 14 and under team.
“It was great introduction to volleyball but I realized I wanted to take my skills to the next level so I switched to the Defensa Volleyball Club (in Burlington) the next year.”
The following summer was invited to the Team Ontario high performance camp.
“That was my first time there and I realized I really wanted to be a part of Team Ontario.”
The following year, she made both the Team Ontario volleyball and beach volleyball squads, making the beach squad as an underager.
“That was really exciting because I got to compete the whole summer for Team Ontario and I got to go to the Canada Cup in Halifax with the indoor team and we won a silver medal.”
Training with Volleyball Canada’s National Excellence Program was the next step in Grace’s progression.
“It was so amazing and I am so grateful that I was able to be there and just compete with some of the best players across the country and train with the national team coaches,” she said. “I learned a lot and I improved so much technically and tactically. I loved every minute of being out there.”
While in British Columbia, she signed her letter of intent with UNCW on Nov. 11.
“My homestay (billet) had a banner and kind of a little party set up for me which was really great,” Melnick said. “It would have been nice to have my family there but I had their support over Facetime.”
It was an emotional moment when she signed on the dotted line.
“There was lots of excitement going through my head because I have been thinking about this day since Grade 9 when I decided I want to go to the U.S. It was crazy to think that the day had finally come and I was officially signed to a school,” she said. “It was almost like a lot of weight taken off my shoulders too because my decision was written on paper and it was happening for real.”
Melnick started the recruiting process by looking at about 20 schools in Canada and the United States before whittling it down to a short list that included University of North Carolina Wilmington, Louisiana Tech, Campbell, Arkansas and Dalhousie.
Unfortunately, the pandemic meant she was unable to visit any of the schools in person and had to learn about the schools and programs through virtual visits.
University of North Carolina Wilmington quickly became the frontrunner.
“I just kind of felt it in my gut that UNCW was the best school for me location-wise because it is right on the beach and it’s a little bit closer to home than all the other schools. I am able to play beach and indoor there too which is a dream come true. I was thinking about just going beach but then I realized I wanted to play indoor more. The fact that I get to play both is really exciting for me.”
She will likely be heading to North Carolina in late July or early August.
“I am definitely hoping things will clear up a little by then. I am aware that the (CIVID) cases are a little higher over there but I know my coach is doing everything she can to make sure the team is staying safe. I am sure I will be OK.”
The future exercise science major, who is thinking about becoming a physiotherapist or chiropractor, has set above-the-net goals for herself.
“I am hoping to go there and be an impact player for the team. I am going to go in the best possible shape that I can, continue to learn and fight to get a spot on the court.”
She can’t wait to get started.
“It’s getting that D1 experience and the competitive culture by competing against some of the best teams.”
University of North Carolina Wilmington competes in the Colonial Athletic Association for volleyball and the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association for beach volleyball,
Joining Melnick in the school’s 2021 recruiting class were graduate transfer Sarah Billiard and Margo Huff. Billiard made the AA All-Freshman team while playing at Virginia, was selected to the Preseason All-ACC team in 2019 and earned an invitation to the 2019 USA National Team tryouts. Huff was a third-team All-Ohio selection and an Under Armor All-America nominee.
“I am so excited about this recruiting class and what they bring to our Seahawk Volleyball family,” head coach Dottie Hampton said on the school’s website. “The addition of Sarah, Margo and Grace moves us forward to achieving the goals we have set for ourselves.”
Hampton was thrilled to land Melnick.
“Grace is a double threat where she is a high level indoor and beach player from Canada,” she said. “She will bring those talents to both the VolleyHawks and SandyHawks programs here at UNCW. Her versatility on the court and the sand makes her valuable to our program.”