The hard way
Walk-on to co-captain, Mellinger finds alternate route to the top
Published: Monday, September 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012 01:09
Tori Mellinger always knew that one way or another she would be at Texas A&M playing on the volleyball team. With obstacles blocking her goals, Mellinger was determined to make her dreams into reality. Although she was not a volleyball starter right away, she would eventually find her calling.
Mellinger began her athletic career by trying several sports, from softball to basketball, but none of them seemed to feel right to her. While playing basketball, she was always the one hustling and diving on the court for the ball. With her older sister playing volleyball, Mellinger’s parents felt that maybe it was time for their younger daughter to do the same.
“I played a lot of different sports but volleyball clicked with me right away,” Mellinger said. “[My parents] knew they needed to sign me up for volleyball when they had to buy knee pads for me because I was always diving for the ball.”
In high school, Mellinger made the junior varsity squad during her freshman year. Because injuries ravaged the varsity team, Mellinger got the call up right away to join the varsity team.
“It was pretty awesome because as soon as I got the starting role during my freshman year I never lost it,” Mellinger said. “High school volleyball was so much fun because we had a great student section and all my best friends were on the team.”
As her senior year was winding down, Mellinger was offered scholarships to take her game to the next level. As much as she wanted to take her game elsewhere, Mellinger had her sights set on becoming an Aggie. At the time, head volleyball coach Laurie Corbelli did not have a scholarship to offer, but explained to Mellinger that she could try to make the team as a walk-on. The decision she had to make would be a difficult one: choose a small school and play with a scholarship, or come to A&M without any assurance that she would have a spot on the team.
“Tori just comes across as the ultimate complete player, who you can see, she knows what she’s doing,” Corbelli said. “When she came here, we let her know that that she can try out for the team and she would have to earn her spot on the team, then she would have to keep working for a scholarship.”
It was a bold move made by Mellinger to risk it all coming to A&M for just the opportunity to walk-on, but Coach Corbelli knew she had the talent to make the team. Despite the challenges facing her, she knew being a third generation Aggie and attending a school where she had the desire and passion attend would be the best decision she could make.
“It was satisfying to see that she came and proved to herself and our staff that she belonged here,” Corbelli said. “It was a stamp of sorts when she earned her scholarship that we wanted and needed her here.”
Mellinger’s dream was made into reality when she made the team as a walk-on. Mellinger then began to work harder to learn the system under Corbelli, spending additional hours after practice improving her game. She wanted to make an immediate impact on a team coming off a “Sweet Sixteen” appearance in the NCAA tournament after her freshman year.
“She realized that you can work your butt off but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will win, but good things will come to those who are resilient,” Corbelli said.
After earning her scholarship, Mellinger became a key component to some great teams, Çorbelli said. Mellinger began her career at A&M as the libero, but over time transitioned to becoming the outside hitter.
“We felt she needed to be more physical before moving her to outside hitter,” Corbelli said. “Once she was able to improve her jump and keep her strength and stamina up it was a no-brainer for us that she needed to be swinging.”
As her senior year began, Mellinger became a co-captain with fellow senior middle blocker Lindsey Miller. With her devotion and love for the game, Mellinger has provided strong leadership as she primes the Aggies for a successful inaugural season in the SEC.
The future seems bright as Mellinger has the goals of playing professional volleyball in Europe followed by becoming an inspirational volleyball coach at the collegiate level. For now, her goals of winning the SEC championship still remain to be accomplished.
“I just really hope that we can continue getting the support from the 12th Man, because there’s nothing better than playing for a full crowd,” Mellinger said. “I think having the 12th Man tradition is the best because everyone is behind you.”