Head Volleyball Coach
Entering her 23rd season as head coach at Missouri State in 2018, Melissa Stokes has posted a 492-228 record (a .683 winning percentage) and is the Missouri Valley Conference’s all-time winningest coach in league matches with 289 MVC victories.
Stokes set the MVC wins record at Bradley on Sept. 30, 2011, to kick off an historic two-week stretch that included her 200th MVC win on Oct. 14 and her 350th overall victory the next night. She added her 400th career victory against Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 13, 2014, becoming the 46th active head coach to reach that milestone, and joining just three other active coaches to have 400 wins in less than 20 full seasons of experience at the time.
A member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2017, Stokes has taken Missouri State to 10 NCAA Tournaments during her tenure, all in the last 15 seasons, and the Bears have finished at least second in either the MVC regular season or tournament in 13 of the last 17 seasons.
Missouri State has won at least 20 matches in 18 of the last 19 seasons, helping Stokes to her No. 3 ranking in total victories in MVC history. In total, Stokes has mentored seven All-Americans, five Academic All-Americans, 64 MVC Scholar-Athletes, 79 all-MVC selections and 59 MVC Players of the week.
MSU's best season under Stokes came in 2017, culminating in a No. 25 national ranking in the AVCA Coaches poll for three weeks in November, a final 28-6 record, and an unbeaten run to MVC regular season and tournament championships. The Bears ended the year with winning streaks of 34 consecutive MVC matches, 22 straight road wins, and 20 Valley road wins in a row, all while going on a 21-match overall winning streak that ended in the NCAA Tournament.
Stokes made it two consecutive seasons as the MVC and AVCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year, while Lily Johnson earned third-team All-American honors from the AVCA, and Emily Butters joined her as an honorable mention choice to give MSU multiple All-Americans for the second time in school history. Missouri State was the only school in the nation with multiple Academic All-Americans, with Johnson earning CoSIDA Academic All-America of the Year laurels and Brianne Dixon picking up a third-team nod. All told, Johnson, Butters, Lynsey Wright, Aubrey Cheffey and Daniele Messa earned all-MVC honors. Johnson, Butters and Wright gave MSU an unprecedented three AVCA All-Region selections, while Butters, Dixon and Johnson made the MVC Scholar-Athlete team.
The Bears had a season for the ages in 2016, going on a remarkable 17-match winning streak late in the year on the way to a 26-9 overall record and NCAA Tournament berth. After an 0-2 conference start, Missouri State won its next 16 league matches to claim the school's fourth regular-season MVC title. The Bears won their 17th match in a row with an MVC Tournament semifinal victory over Illinois State before falling in the championship match exactly two months to the day since their previous loss.
Stokes was honored as the MVC and AVCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year, leading a host of Bears who were awarded on a conference and national level. Lily Johnson picked up honorable mention All-America laurels from the AVCA for a third consecutive season, and was a second-team CoSIDA Academic All-American while earning MVC Player of the Year honors for the second straight year. Daniele Messa was the MVC Freshman of the Year and a first-team all-conference pick after ranking 15th nationally in total assists, while Simone House and Lynsey Wright also earned all-MVC accolades and Emily Butters, Brianne Dixon and Johnson were MVC Scholar-Athlete selections.
Year 20 under Stokes continued MSU’s run of excellence as the Bears went 24-11 overall and earned an at-large NCAA Tournament spot with a final RPI ranking of 35. Missouri State finished 13-5 in MVC play and advanced to the league tournament title match in what was a banner year for The Valley as four teams qualified for the Big Dance.
The 2015 season included plenty of individual honors as well, as Kinsey Batten and Lily Johnson became the first MSU teammates to earn All-America honors in the same season as honorable mention picks by the AVCA. Batten earned MVC Setter of the Year honors and led the nation with 1,522 assists, while Johnson was voted the league’s Player of the Year as the first MSU player to earn All-America honors multiple times in a career after ranking third nationally in kills and fourth in points. In all, seven different Bears were recognized by the MVC during the season with either a weekly or postseason award.
Honors continued to roll in well into the offseason as Johnson, Emily Butters and Lynsey Wright each participated in the U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryouts and earned spots competing for the Collegiate National Team in the summer of 2016.
The 2014 season was highlighted by a pair of first-team all-conference outside hitters in Olivia Brand and Lily Johnson, with Johnson becoming the program’s sixth All-American, and first freshman to do so, as an honorable mention AVCA choice.
MSU hit the 20-win mark again in 2013, finishing the season 21-11 while ranking 51st or better in the NCAA in assists, digs and kills per set. Senior setter Carly Thomas also became the program’s fifth All-American, earning honorable mention honors for the AVCA.
The 2011 Bears went 22-9 and placed second in the MVC with a 15-3 league mark to earn an NCAA at-large selection. Missouri State lost at Pepperdine in the first round, and finished the season 26th nationally in kills per set while also recording more digs than the opposition in all but two matches.
Senior Calli Norman finished her career as the third player in MVC history to earn first-team all-MVC recognition four times, while Carly Thomas led the MVC in assists as an AVCA all-Region choice.
The Bears made a return to the NCAA Tournament in 2010, going 21-10 overall and 12-6 in perhaps the toughest MVC field ever. Missouri State received an at-large selection as the league tied its 2007 record of four NCAA berths as a conference.
Junior Kelley Michnowicz became the third All-American under Stokes, earning honorable mention laurels from the AVCA, while Calli Norman became one of the few players in MVC history to earn first-team all-conference honors her first three seasons.
MSU made it four straight NCAA appearances in 2008 after finishing 23-13 overall and winning the State Farm MVC Tournament with victories over Illinois State, unbeaten and ninth-ranked Wichita State, and UNI in the final. The Bears' five-set win over the host Shockers was the first loss of the year for WSU after it cruised through the regular season at 29-0.
The 2007 Bears went 25-8 and tied for second in the league with a 14-4 MVC mark on the way to another NCAA berth. It was a banner year for the MVC as a record four teams earned invitations to the NCAA Tournament.
Stokes guided Missouri State to new heights in 2006, as the Bears earned the first NCAA Tournament win in school history with a 3-1 first-round victory at Arkansas. MSU ended the year 27-9, achieving 27 victories for the third time in Stokes' tenure. Missouri State reached another milestone in November, becoming the second program in NCAA Division I history to win 1,000 matches with a home sweep of Indiana State. The Bears reached the MVC Tournament championship match for the fifth time in the last six seasons, and placed three student-athletes on both the all-conference and MVC Scholar-Athlete team.
Stokes had one of her strongest teams in 2005, placing all four seniors on the All-Missouri Valley Conference teams and taking the Bears to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in her tenure and the fifth in school history. The Bears posted a 24-9 overall record and placed second in the league during the regular season with a 15-3 record. The Bears made the MVC Tournament championship match and won the title by sweeping regular-season champion Wichita State. The Bears also had success in the classroom, with all four seniors posting a 4.0 grade-point average in both semesters and the team posting a 3.51 cumulative grade point average.
In 2004, Stokes did one of her best coaching jobs, taking a team with only two returning starters and making it a force in the Valley. The Bears rolled into the championship match of the State Farm MVC Tournament and took regular-season champion Wichita State to five sets on the Shockers' home floor. The loss meant the Bears narrowly missed a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but they finished with a 23-10 overall record and tied for second in the Valley regular-season race.
In 2003, the Bears claimed their first outright MVC title in 20 years and Missouri State advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Stokes. The Bears spent four weeks ranked in the AVCA/USA Today Top 25 poll and Stokes was the MVC Coach of the Year for the first time in her tenure at MSU.
Additionally, Linette White became the first Missouri State player to earn All-America accolades from the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
The Bears finished second in the Valley standings each of the previous two seasons (2001 and 2002) with 15 league wins each year. Prior to that, the Bears moved up the Valley standings every year (fourth in 1999, third in 2000 and second in 2001).
Missouri State won at least 21 matches each year from 1999-2011, going 308-119 overall (.721 winning percentage) and 180-54 in Valley matches (.769) during that stretch. At home, the Bears went 160-33 (.829) over that same span. That streak of 13 consecutive 20-win seasons ranked as the seventh longest active streak in NCAA Division I when it came to an end.
In 2001, Stokes led Missouri State to 15 MVC wins against three league losses and the Bears' second-place finish in The Valley was the best finish since 1993. Missouri State also advanced to the Valley tournament title match for the first time since 1993 and was ranked as high as seventh in the Central Region.
The Bears were 27-7 and 14-4 in The Valley in 2000. Missouri State was third in the Valley's final regular season standings and the 27 victories were the most for a Missouri State team since the 1982 season.
A native of El Cajon, Calif., Stokes took over at Missouri State in 1996 and promptly led her first squad to a 20-win season as the Bears went 20-11 in what was her first season as a college head coach. The 20 wins and tie for third at the MVC Tournament marked the program's best efforts since 1993.
The 1997 squad was an offensive powerhouse, leading the conference and ranking sixth in the nation with a 17.52 kills per set average, a new school record. Missouri State's Michelle Witzke (5.70) and Joleen Meservy (4.88) ranked one-two in the league in kills and both were among the nation's top 20. The Bears also ranked second in The Valley in digs per set.
The 1999 Bears finished with a 22-12 record overall, a fourth place finish in the Valley and a berth in the conference postseason tournament. The 22 victories were the most since the 1993 club went 22-8, and the 11 league wins marked the sixth time Missouri State had won 10 or more league matches since joining the MVC in 1992.
A 1991 graduate of San Diego State University, Stokes came to Missouri State after four years as an assistant coach at the University of Idaho. At Idaho, she worked under head coach Tom Hilbert and served as the Vandals' recruiting coordinator. Stokes helped put together teams that won four straight Big Sky Conference championships, earned four NCAA Tournament berths and went 103-21 (.831) during her stay in Moscow.
In 1995, Idaho went 28-5 and was nationally ranked for six weeks, finishing 21st in the final poll after losing in the NCAA first round. In 1994, the Vandals were ranked for 10 straight weeks during a 31-3 season and ended up 19th after getting to the NCAA second round for the second year in a row. Idaho was 24-6 in 1993 and 24-7 in 1992.
Stokes served a stint as head coach of the Idaho men's varsity volleyball club team and coached the Missouri State men's club team in the spring of 1997.
Before going to Idaho, Stokes coached high school volleyball in California and won four of a possible five conference titles while serving as the head girls coach at San Pasqual High in Escondido during the fall of 1990 and 1991 and as the boys' coach at St. Augustine High in San Diego during the spring from 1990 to 1992. She also served from 1988 to 1992 as a head coach in the San Diego Volleyball Club, training boys and girls aged 14 to 18 for regional and national competition.
As a setter at SDSU, Stokes helped the Aztecs to two NCAA Tournament appearances. She finished her career ranked fourth on the school's career assists list with 2,239 and was seventh on the all-time single season charts with 1,108 in 1987. In 1986, SDSU was ranked first in the nation for six weeks en route to a 37-9 final record.
Prior to attending SDSU, Stokes was a multi-sport standout at Granite Hills High School, where she was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame in May 2009.
Stokes, who won USVBA All-America honors in 1986, competed from 1990 to 1997 in the California Beach Volleyball Association. A member of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, Stokes received her Master of Science degree in sports and recreation management from Idaho in 1995.
Since taking over at Missouri State, Stokes has served on numerous committees with the AVCA. She has been a voter on the AVCA top 25 poll since 2005 while also voting in 1998, and has been on the AVCA all-regional and regional coach of the year committee. In 2001, 2002 and 2003, Stokes was also a member of the AVCA regional coaches poll committee, and has held a spot on the Regional Advisory Committee since 2007.
Also very active in the Springfield community, Stokes was named the 2001 Big Sister of the Year by Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Ozarks. In 2006, Stokes spent nearly a month on a mission in Thailand, working at a children's home, teaching English and serving meals, among other things, to Thai youth.