Grasso takes CSUB to new heights

CSUB senior outsider hitter Carol Grasso was named WAC Player of the Year for the 2016 indoor volleyball season. 
Photo by AJ Alvarado/ The Runner

AJ Alvarado

CSUB senior outsider hitter Carol Grasso was named WAC Player of the Year for the 2016 indoor volleyball season. Photo by AJ Alvarado/ The Runner

Esteban Ramirez

Senior Staff Writer


CSU Bakersfield’s beach volleyball season is less than two weeks away, and the Roadrunners are hoping to bounce back this year with some key returning players.

One of those returning players is senior Carol Grasso, who finished her indoor season by doing something no other CSUB volleyball player has ever done — earning the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year honor this past December.

Grasso, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall, was doubted as a hitter by recruiters.

Thus, winning the award was emotional for her, since it proved all those doubters wrong.

“My whole team went crazy, and I was just thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s me.’ I didn’t believe it until [the award] was in my hands. I was going back to the table, and coach [Giovana Melo] was right there with her arms open, and I just lost it,” said Grasso.

Senior Sydney Haynes, Grasso’s teammate in beach volleyball last year, said she was proud Grasso won MVP honors.

“The second she got it, I could see the emotion on her face. I knew why she was so emotional, and it’s just because she has always been doubted. We believed in her as a team, and the coaches believed in her, and she proved she deserved it.”

For Grasso, her road to winning that award began across the pond in Italy where she was born. She only lived there shortly as Grasso’s family was originally from Brazil and moved back when she was young.

“It was fun [growing up there], and I always loved living in Brazil,” she said.

She said she played different sports growing up, but volleyball was in her blood.

CSUB senior outsider hitter Carol Grasso was named WAC Player of the Year for the 2016 indoor volleyball season.
Photo by AJ Alvarado/ The Runner

Both her parents were involved in volleyball. Her father was a volleyball coach, and her mother was a volleyball player. 

Though Grasso’s parents never told her to pursue volleyball, Grasso felt a connection to the sport.

“I tried other sports,” she said. “I actually played soccer and volleyball at the same time, but I just decided to get serious with volleyball. For some reason, I thought I would have more fun and have more love for the game.”

She continued to play volleyball while in Brazil, and met current CSUB beach volleyball coach Cesar Benatti, who was a coach at a different school. When it came time to go to college, Benatti helped her to find the right school for her. At the time, Benatti was running a business which helped athletes go to college in the United States.

“She is very talented and volleyball comes natural to her,” Benatti said.

Grasso found her way to Salt Lake Community College, and in 2013, she played against CSUB Director of Volleyball Giovana Melo, who was coaching her final year at Western Nebraska Community College.

That encounter led to an interesting prediction from Melo to Grasso.

“She said I was going to play for her,” Grasso said. “We didn’t start talking because we weren’t allowed to, but from that point, she said she was going to be my coach.”

Melo said she was coaching against Grasso in the quarterfinals of the volleyball National Junior College Athletic Association tournament. Grasso gave Melo and Western Nebraska fits that match as they lost 3-0 and Grasso finished with 14 kills and 21 digs.

“I tried everything,” said Melo. “I tried to change what we were doing on defense, I tried to change what we were doing blocking, and nothing could stop her that day. I thought if she could do this against a big player, then she could play at this level. As soon as I got a job here, she was the first player I contacted.”

Despite putting up 450 kills and 36 aces in her final season at Salt Lake College, she said Melo was the only coach who recruited her as an outside hitter. She said other schools, such as Penn State, recruited her as a libero or defensive specialist.

“She is the only one that believed in me and said I could do it,” she said. “She liked the way I played and that’s what got me.”

In 2015, Grasso arrived at CSUB. Her first season started off slowly. She said she had to change aspects of her game, and she had a hard time adjusting.

As the season went on, she began to adjust with the team’s system and finished third on the team with 247 kills and seventh in the WAC with an average of 2.93 digs per match.

She said she worked hard during the summer, and with some help from her father, she was ready for this season.

Melo said she was harder on Grasso than most players.

“This year she just blossomed, and that’s when she started to really understand the things I wanted her to do,” said Melo. “As a smaller hitter, she just can’t do the same thing over and over again. She needs to be smart and she needs to be selective. She had to learn when to take certain shots.”

The change in her game led to her having a record-breaking season. She led the conference in kills with 4.09 per match, in service aces with 59, and in points with 489.5. She also finished seventh in digs with an average of 3.14 per match.

“[The coaches] knew if I made changes necessary, I could be the best player in our conference,” Grasso said. “Since the beginning, I came in trusting them and trusting their work, and it happened.”

Haynes said Grasso is a good leader and people look up to her.

“She leads by example. She doesn’t really need to talk to be a leader. She just does her thing, and that’s enough. People look up to her and want to be like her,” said Haynes.
CSUB’s indoor season ended with Utah Valley University defeating the Roadrunners 3-2 in the semifinals of the WAC Volleyball Tournament.

Now, Grasso and CSUB are preparing for their beach volleyball season. The Roadrunners finished last year 4-14.

Grasso and Haynes were a bright spot last year as they finished 12-6 as a tandem. However, Haynes sustained a shoulder injury and is out for this season. Grasso is now pairing with fellow senior Sara Little, who missed last year due to a knee injury.

“I’m really excited,” said Grasso. “Last year was my first year playing sand. It was hard, but it was great at the same time.”  

Benatti said he is looking forward to the start of the season because Grasso and Little along with the rest of the team have been practicing well.

“The program is heading to the direction that I want it to be,” he said.

Some other key returning players are senior Jocelyn Rodriguez and sophomore Kayla Tinker.

CSUB is scheduled to start its season against Cal Poly on March 2 at Pismo Beach. This season CSUB is set to compete against UCLA that same day, against Arizona State University on March 17 and USC on April 20.