COLUMBIA — When Columbia College volleyball coach Melinda Wrye-Washington was a little girl, she always wanted to do things by herself. She was determined to do things her own way.
“I didn’t want help tying my shoes,” Wrye-Washington said. “I didn’t want to comb my hair. I didn’t want anyone picking my clothes out for me. I’d get spanked and get in trouble and it didn’t matter. I still did whatever I wanted.”
Wrye-Washington’s stubbornness caused her grandfather to tell her that she was a little fish in a big pond and needed to ask for help every once in a while. That is where she earned the nickname “Minnow” and it has followed her ever since.
“Every article in my scrapbook is ‘Minnow,’” Wrye-Washington said. “From Mizzou to Eldon High School. It didn’t matter what it was it was always Melinda ‘Minnow’ Wrye, always.”
The same determination that led her grandfather to tag her with the nickname has also served her well throughout her distinguished volleyball career as a coach and a player.
Before beginning her coaching career, Wrye-Washington was a star outside hitter on the volleyball court for Columbia College and MU. She was an All-Big Eight selection at MU and would later become the first NAIA First Team All-American in Columbia College history.
MU volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow was an assistant coach at MU under Craig Sherman while Wrye-Washington was a senior at Eldon High School in 1990. He recruited Wrye-Washington to play at MU and would later help coach her at Columbia College. Kreklow said that, while at MU, he knew “Minnow” by another name.
“She was somebody that had just an ideal outside hitter’s mentality,” Krelow said. “She may think this is funny but Craig and I used to call her ‘the Terminator’ because every time she swung, play was going to terminate for good or for bad.”
Wrye-Washington took over as head coach of Columbia College volleyball in 2000, after coaching basketball and volleyball for three seasons at Westminister College. She had big shoes to fill as Kreklow and his wife Susan had coached the Cougars to back-to-back undefeated seasons and NAIA National Championships. She was faced with a challenge that Kreklow admitted is often times more difficult than building a successful program from scratch.
“I think sometimes it’s harder to maintain than it is to build,” Kreklow said. “And I think in many respects doing what ‘Minnow’ did is a lot harder than going some place and starting from scratch. There were a lot of high expectations and everybody was used to not just winning, but winning all the time.”
Wrye-Washington has done more than tread water in her time at Columbia College. She has coached the Cougars to over 300 victories, 5 Final Fours and one National Championship in 2001. In her 8 seasons as coach, she has also earned the respect of her players.
“She’s really intense as a coach and always wants to win just like the rest of us,” sophomore libero Jessica Williams said. “As a person, she’s nice and will do anything for you. She’s like a friend off the court and a coach on the court.”
Despite Wrye-Washington’s success, Kreklow concedes that there was a time when he didn’t expect her to have a successful coaching career ahead of her.
“Sometimes really competitive players like that don’t always make good coaches,” Kreklow said. “Minnow is somebody that’s really matured a lot and kind of changed from this wild aggressive player on the court to somebody who is much more grounded and stable and thoughtful and all those things that now I think make somebody a good coach.”
Wrye-Washington admits that she has gone through a maturation process over the years.
“I remember at Westminister kicking a chair up into about the third row of bleachers in basketball and getting booted out of a basketball game,” Wrye-Washington said. “I’m so intense of a person that (the officials) didn’t appreciate that. So I think I’ve settled down a little bit in that area.”
One thing she has not grown out of is her intense desire to win. The Cougars are currently ranked No. 6 in the NAIA, but she says she can’t help but dwell on her team’s 6 losses.
“I don’t think that 6 losses is acceptable this year,” Wrye-Washington said. “A lot of coaches would be happy to be 26-6 or whatever we are right now and 14-0 in the conference, but those 6 losses haunt me.”
When she was a toddler her high standards earned her a nickname. Now they earn her and the Columbia College volleyball program an annual shot at the NAIA National Championship.