Volleyball coaches’ careers come full circle at Sac State

Coaches are alumni with national and conference championship wins


Robyn Dobson

Volleyball coaches Ed Jackson, Ruben Volta and Sarah Chlebana pose for a photo before practice Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Yosemite Hall. Jackson, Volta and Chlebana were all student athletes at Sac State, earning national and conference championships.

At one point, every current coach of the Sacramento State volleyball team was a student athlete at the university, juggling volleyball training sessions while attending classes in the very halls where students are learning today.

Head coach Ruben Volta and assistant coach Ed Jackson both played for the Hornets men’s club volleyball team, as Sac State does not have an officially sanctioned NCAA men’s volleyball team. Assistant coach Sarah Chlebana was recruited to play for the women’s team in 1997.

After graduating, Volta, Jackson and Chlebana all left Sac State to pursue careers in coaching elsewhere. Eventually, all three coaches found their way back to their alma mater. 

The three coaches’ paths have intertwined since their playing days and continued to cross well into their coaching careers. 

“I met Ruben and Ed while I was in college and Ruben actually became the volunteer assistant my senior year,” Chlebana said. “So I’ve known these guys for a long time.”

Sac State is the only volleyball program in the Big Sky Conference where the entire coaching staff is comprised of the university’s alumni. 

Volta began his volleyball career and road to Sac State at De Anza College in his hometown of Cupertino, California. 

“One of my cousins was going to school here (at Sac State) and I actually came up and stayed in the dorms with him,” Volta said. “I stayed the weekend with him, we hung out and he showed me around and I liked it. I thought this was a really neat campus.”

Volta then attended Sac State to pursue a degree in physical education, joining the Hornets men’s club volleyball team and playing for four years (1991-1993, 1995). 

Courtesy of Ruben Volta
Head volleyball coach Ruben Volta sets the ball to his teammate during a match. Volta played for the Hornets men’s club volleyball team for four years (1991-93, 1995).

It was here that Volta met Jackson and the two became teammates, playing together during the ‘92 and ‘93 seasons. 

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Jackson said. “We were teammates and then after that, we ended up being roommates for a little while for a few years. It just went full circle eventually.”

During his time on the club team, Volta earned All-American honors as a setter and won a National Club Championship in 1995 after going undefeated during the season. 

Volta and his club team beat University of Maryland in the finals of a tournament that featured 64 club teams from around the nation. 

In 1995, after experiencing success as a player, Volta opened the High Voltage volleyball facility in Sacramento.

In 2000, Volta returned to Sac State, joining the coaching staff as a volunteer assistant. This was the same year as Chlebana’s senior year at the university.

Chlebana, who is originally from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, started playing volleyball as a teen thanks to the encouragement of a friend.

“My mom played basketball and because I was taller than everyone else in eighth and ninth grade, my friend pulled me to volleyball tryouts,” Chlebana said. “I was terrible, I was so bad. I didn’t play at all, but I worked really, really hard and ended up falling in love with volleyball.”

Chlebana was recruited to play for Sac State while she was still in Canada by former head coach Debby Colberg. 

Chlebana played for the Hornets from 1997-2000, where she helped lead the team to four consecutive Big Sky Championships and NCAA tournament appearances. 

Courtesy of Bob Solorio
Assistant volleyball coach Sarah Chlebana digs the ball during a match in 2000. Chlenbana helped lead the Hornets to four consecutive Big Sky Championships and NCAA tournament appearances during her time as a student athlete.

The four-year starter recorded 1,116 kills, 1,348 digs and 271 blocks during her collegiate career. 

After graduating with a degree in computer science, Chlebana said she initially intended to go straight into a master’s program in applied materials at Sac State. However, when she missed the deadline to apply, Colberg suggested she give coaching a try. 

Chlebana was eventually hired at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Chelbana also coached at Syracuse University and Long Island University before she got a call from Volta asking her to return to Sacramento.

“Ruben took over the head (coaching) job here in 2008 and called me to see if I would come back and coach with him,” Chlebana said. “It was a tough decision to leave New York City, but ultimately I could not pass up the opportunity to work at my alma mater.” 

Chlebana returned and coached the Hornets from 2008-14. After a brief stint at Fresno State, Chlebana returned to Sac State in 2018. 

“There’s a whole other level of pride in coaching at the school that you got to play at as a player,” Chlebana said. “I’m immersed in the traditions of the program over time and there is just a whole other level of pride when the team succeeds and when the program does well.”

Jackson was the last of the three to officially join the coaching staff. Jackson became an assistant coach in 2015 when the Hornets’ posted a successful 26-7 overall record. 

Jackson said he began playing volleyball in high school when his school started a men’s team and the women’s coach encouraged him to attend tryouts.

The San Diego native said he transferred from Grossmont College to Sac State after wanting to continue to play volleyball at a collegiate level. 

Like Volta, Jackson also played four seasons for the Hornets men’s club team (1992-94,1997) while he pursued a degree in psychology. 

Jackson was a two-time All-American selection for outside hitter and right side hitter and won a National Club Championship in 1997 in Tucson, Arizona.

“We actually just played there, with the women’s team, we went to Tucson and played Arizona,” Jackson said about the Sac State volleyball team playing in Tucson earlier this season. “It was the same arena, it was the same gym. For me, it was kind of neat. I hadn’t been back since, so it was the first time I had been back to Tucson since we won the National Championship.”

After graduating, Jackson traveled around the country coaching at various universities including the College of William & Mary in Virginia and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco before jumping on the opportunity to return to his alma mater. 

In 2009, Jackson and Volta were inducted into the Sac State men’s volleyball Hall of Fame. 

“It’s a nice honor,” Jackson said. “I think the thing that is really special about that is that it’s voted by your former teammates. For the people that you spent a lot of your time with during your college years to think that you were someone worthy enough to be in the hall of fame was a really nice gesture.”

Volta, Chlebana and Jackson all stressed how much they enjoy coming to work not only due to their mutual love for the game, but also because they get to come to work and coach with their long-time friends. 

“The family atmosphere at Sacramento State is so unique and different than anywhere else I’ve worked. People love it here, and everyone pulls for each other,” Chlebana said. “There are many people in the athletics department, and around campus, I’ve known since I was a player, and it’s one of the many things that makes me love coming to work every day.”