Women’s volleyball draws attention to The Hidden Opponent

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) volleyball players Aly Fullbright and Kaila Uota continue to promote the de-stigmatization of depression and anxiety in athletes as the team enters the final months of competition. 

Fullbright and Uota are the campus captains for The Hidden Opponent, a national mental health advocacy program. Elected in August 2021, the two have dedicated themselves to supporting the cause. 

The non-profit organization was founded by Victoria Garrick, a former Division I volleyball athlete at the University of Southern California. 

Garrick’s TED Talk surrounding her mental illness that she ignored and eventually confronted paved the way for a platform that normalizes challenging conversations. 

CSUMB’s new volleyball head coach, Courtney Materazzi, joined the Otter family with experience as a former campus coordinator for The Hidden Opponent. 

Materazzi presented the team with an opportunity to become leaders and representatives for the non-profit on campus. Fullbright and Uota’s passion for the mission drove them toward accepting the job. 

Fullbright believes mental health issues fly under the radar.

“Both mental and physical health have equal importance,” Fullbright said. “I want to help shed that light throughout CSUMB athletics.”

Athletes struggle to perform physically when their head isn’t in the right place. Success in competition stems from the relationship between psychological well-being and the status of fitness. 

Uota’s  involvement with the advocacy group has helped her deal with emotional stress. 

“It reminded me to stay in the moment,” Uota said. “These resources help me keep balance in my life.” 

Mental trauma and tensions aren’t visible like common sports injuries. It’s critical to recognize symptoms and seek help – an important step to take. 

Sam Chavez, CSUMB women’s volleyball defensive specialist, described the challenges she faces in mental health. 

“I do have a deep pressure on me to perform,” Chavez said. “Having The Hidden Opponent mental outlet is good for me personally.” 

The weight of responsibility on the court isn’t easy for Chavez. She uses touch and eye contact with her teammates to handle high-intensity situations.

Chavez is comforted by understanding that her teammates feel the same pressures and stress in high stakes matches. 

Acknowledging the burdens of anxiety and depression athletes grapple with has been the focal point for The Hidden Opponent, normalizing discussions of mental health.

The Otters take on California State University, East Bay on Nov. 12. 

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