COLUMBIA — If Rock Bridge golf coach Melissa Melahn was told six years ago that she would be the coach of a sports team, she wouldn’t have believed it. Now she is not only a coach but a very successful one, and she couldn’t be happier.
“I never would have thought I would have been a coach,” Melahn said. “But now, the opportunity to coach is almost what I enjoy so much about my counseling job."
The Rock Bridge girls golf team will compete in the state tournament as a team for the second straight year starting Monday, thanks in large part to Melahn's effort.
Melahn has been a guidance counselor at Rock Bridge High School since 2003. She started coaching when her predecessor, Andrew Tiedemann, asked if she would be interested in helping out with the team in his last year as coach.
Tiedemann left Rock Bridge in 2005, and Melahn was the only one with enough experience to coach the team. She gladly took the reins.
Now in her fifth full year as head coach, Melahn has found a style that works for her, and in turn, her team.
“Her main objective with us is to kind of let us figure things out for ourselves physically,” junior Morgan Reimler said. “But if she notices that we are struggling, she’s going to be there and back us up.”
Melahn’s team won its second straight district title this year after coming up empty the two decades before, which is not only a result of the great physical ability of the team but the new-found mental edge that the players have gained this year.
After finishing fifth at the state tournament last year, Melahn decided the skill her team needed most was mental toughness, or the ability to not let a bad shot affect the rest of the player's round.
To help her team to acquire this skill, she gave each of her players a note card with mental tips to carry around with them during their sectional tournament.
“They said we all had the ability to shoot at least 80, but it’s just our mental side that stumps us up sometimes,” sophomore Kaitlyn Marsh said. “She helps us with thinking positively.”
Some players use the messages to mentally prepare as well.
“I always try and feel like she is there when I’m playing because that helps me relax,” sophomore Angie Kern said. “I just tell myself that she would trust me that I can do this, so that’s how I play.”
The note cards ended up paying off.
Rock Bridge won its sectional tournament by a healthy margin, nine strokes over Kickapoo High School. Senior Meghan Mueller tied for the overall individual championship with a score of 76 (+5).
The win sends the Bruins to the state tournament.
The cards have especially helped the younger players on the team. Of the five players on varsity, three are sophomores, so it was critical for them to stay mentally sharp.
“After having a bad shot, my mental side wasn’t able to really forget about it,” sophomore Makayla Baker said. “But now with these little cards, I am able to focus better.”
Even with the amount of success her team has had over the past two years, Melahn doesn’t want winning at all costs to be the main focus for her team.
“My biggest thing is to make golf enjoyable,” Melahn said. “I think once you do that, it becomes something you want to do rather than something you have to do.”
The Bruins will have a lot of fun if they take home a state championship because Rock Bridge has never won a girls golf state title.
Rock Bridge starts the two-day state tournament Monday at Twin Oaks Country Club in Springfield.