COLUMBIA — Melinda Wrye was faced with a dilemma. Should she watch her teammates on the 1989 Eldon volleyball team from the sidelines where she sat with an injured ankle? Or, should she cut off her cast, ice her ankle until it was numb, and play with intense pain?
Anyone who knows her, knows which one she chose. With her in the game, the Mustangs won and eventually moved on to the state tournament.
Now, she is Melinda Wrye-Washington, and now she uses her intense desire for success as coach of the Columbia College women's volleyball program. Such competitiveness continues to drive her to do everything at the highest level, whether that be learning, playing or coaching.
That desire and drive has always been a part of her, even as a small child. Her grandfather called her Minnow because of her stubborn ways.
“He would always say that ‘you are a little fish in a big pond, you need to ask for help,'" Wrye-Washington said.
Missouri volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow, who coached Wrye-Washington at both Mizzou and Columbia College, sometimes referred to her with a more menacing nickname.
“I called her ‘the Terminator,'” Kreklow said. “She was either going to get a kill, hit it out of bounds, or hit it into the net. Most of the time they were kills, fortunately.”
Kreklow was always impressed with Wrye-Washington as a player, but never thought she would end up in coaching.
“When she was younger, she was tough to handle,” Kreklow said. “She wasn’t what I call your model player. She lived how she played, she was very headstrong.”
Ann Gulshen, Wrye-Washington’s high school coach, also said she was a bit of a troublemaker in her high school years.
“It was not unusual for her to get kicked out of practice,” Gulshen said. “You’d kick her out, and she’d be banging on the door to get back in.”
But Gulshen said there was a side of Wrye-Washington that most people did not see when she was younger — a softer side. When Gulshen was visiting her mother in the hospital in Jefferson City, Wrye-Washington was the one that made the trip from Eldon to visit and comfort her.
“She didn’t let everyone see her soft side,” Gulshen said. “She was good with younger kids and older people.”
Kreklow has seen the success of Wrye-Washington and realizes that the person she was as a player is not who she is as a coach.
“It’s obvious now that the coaching traits were there, but buried,” Kreklow said.
Those coaching traits have led to great success for Wrye-Washington at Columbia College. Since arriving as head coach in 2000, the Cougars have made the NAIA National Tournament 10 times in a row, winning one national championship in 2001. Wrye-Washington recently passed the 400-win plateau as head coach of Columbia College.
And this season, the Cougars have started out strong again. At 16-2, they are well on their way to another NAIA National Tournament appearance, and quite possibly a national championship.
“Any time you are ranked in the top 10, you have a shot in the NAIA,” Wrye-Washington said.
Wrye-Washington said that the core of this year’s team makes it better than last year’s. Setter Paula Ferreira and libero Tally Mattos, along with outside hitters Vesna Trivunovic and Kelly Korkum make this a complete team.
But even a strong start like the Cougars have had is not enough for Wrye-Washington. After a sweep of William Woods on Sept. 30, Wrye-Washington and her players were disappointed that they did not play better. The high expectations that Wrye-Washington sets for herself also apply to her team.
Aside from coaching a top 10 volleyball team, Wrye-Washington has two children playing sports at Jefferson City High School. Her son, Michael, plays football, basketball and baseball, and her daughter, Madison, plays softball, basketball, and runs track.
“It’s hard to keep up nowadays,” Wrye-Washington said. “But I’ve grown accustomed to it (the schedule). I really like it, and my kids like it. It’s something they want to do.”
Wrye-Washington, as always, welcomes the challenge of organizing her life.
“Taking care of everyone at the highest level I can is a challenge to me,” Wrye-Washington said. “I enjoy the challenge of being able to handle and manage everything at once.”
Wrye-Washington also continues to advance her education. She earned a Master’s degree in athletics administration from William Woods University in 2006, and plans on going for a doctorate in the future.
“I want to be as well educated as I can,” Wrye-Washington said. “You can’t ever stop being a student. Things change so fast in the world that I want to keep up. I want to keep learning and progressing. I don’t want to get to a point in my life where I’m at a standstill, ever.”
Kreklow says he knows that Wrye-Washington has the ability to reach her goals.
“When she puts her mind to something, she will do whatever it takes to accomplish it,” he said.