By Jackie Servais, Ole Miss Athletics Communications
While Tori Mellinger may have a new title, in a new city, surrounded by new people, one thing that remains the same is the game to which she has dedicated her entire life.
Mellinger recently joined the Rebels from Arkansas State, where she spent the past two years as a graduate assistant while earning a master’s degree in sports administration. The Texas native and former Texas A&M Aggie learned her senior year what an honor it is to be able to play volleyball in the Southeastern Conference, but now she has been given the opportunity to view it from the front office.
“My last year was Texas A&M’s first year in the SEC, so I got a little taste of it, and it was so much more grand than the Big 12,” Mellinger said. “I fell in love with the SEC right away, and from then on, that had always been the goal. So when the opportunity presented itself, I could not pass on it. I am confident that this is a great opportunity for me.”
Mellinger will hold the titles of assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, both of which will be a major factor in Ole Miss volleyball’s future success. The Rebels finished the 2016 season 6-12 in conference (17-14 overall) and with the transition of new players, Mellinger’s primary role as recruiting coordinator will be put to the test.
“The tie-in for me is pretty easy. Being from Texas and then working in Arkansas, we will recruit a lot of the same areas that I am already familiar with,” Mellinger said. “A lot of people think it’s a grind and tough, but I like to travel. Getting to watch volleyball for my job doesn’t sound too bad. I am very excited to get out there and start recruiting.”
The Lake Highlands High School alumnus did not commit to Texas A&M until her senior year, which is almost unheard of now. Most collegiate volleyball prospects emerge as freshmen and sophomores and commit early. Mellinger doesn’t necessarily like that high-pressure process, but she knows it’s the only way to build a successful program.
“The bulk of players we are recruiting are freshmen and sophomores in high school. I really wish we could slow that process down,” Mellinger said. “It’s sad how early we have to do things, but if we don’t, someone else will. We want to remain competitive. Our goal is to win the SEC and to do that we have to keep up with the big dogs.”
While the expedited nature of the recruiting process may be uncontrollable, Mellinger and the Ole Miss volleyball staff can at least control the athletes they attract, and the Rebels have plenty of selling points.
“The Ole Miss campus is somewhere I definitely could picture myself and that is something we need these young kids to think and feel,” Mellinger said. “We want our current and future athletes to know they made the right decision and to be happy. If they are not happy, no one is happy.”
Finding that right fit will be the key for Mellinger as she begins her new role in Oxford as a part of coach Steven McRoberts’ staff. Finding a player who feels at home at Ole Miss means building a solid long-term foundation for the program.
“Athletes need to trust their instinct, if they want to wait then wait. If it’s where they are supposed to be it will all workout,” Mellinger said. “It is a tough balance between waiting and wanting them to make the right decision, but we know we want kids that are all in on our program and want to make this their home.”
Mellinger will embark on her first mission for her team today as she heads to Indianapolis in search for future Rebels—ones who will join her on her journey at Ole Miss. – RN