It’s amazing how the encouragement of one coach can plant the tiniest seed in the mind a young athlete, who not only finds inspiration but goes on to give back to the game.

For Melinda Wrye-Washington, her love for the sport of volleyball took root in the middle school of Eldon, where varsity volleyball coach Ann Gulshen (MSHOF 2018) was a physical education teacher and middle school basketball coach.

“She encouraged me to play both basketball and volleyball in middle school. She made it fun, held me accountable, and challenged me every day to be better,” Wrye-Washington said.

Not long after, Wrye-Washington emerged as one of the state’s best prep players, then a college standout – all before a remarkable career as a volleyball coach. Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Wrye-Washington with the Class of 2019.

As an athlete, Wrye-Washington was All-State in three sports and a three-time All-State volleyball player, leading Eldon High School to four state volleyball tournaments. She played three seasons at the University of Missouri (team captain, all-tournament selections, spring All-Big Eight selection) before transferring to Columbia College, earning the first NAIA First Team All-American honors in program history, and led the team to its first national tournament.

After graduation, she coached at Westminster College, leading the volleyball program to its first NCAA Tournament, plus coached basketball and held the role of Senior Women’s Administrator.

She was only getting warmed up.

Wrye-Washington coached Columbia College volleyball from 2000 to 2018, compiling a program-best 719-112 record (.865). Each of her teams reached the NAIA Tournament, with the 2001 and 2015 teams winning national titles and six finishing as runners-up.

To Wrye-Washington, her success was because of the unselfishness of many others: grandparents Truman and Evelyn Wrye driving her to practices, grandmother Jan Dunstan offering encouragement, dad Larry coaching her youth teams and mom Cindy Lamkin lending an ear.

Gulshen and basketball coach Clare Herriman at Eldon High School played huge roles, too, as did Mizzou coaches Craig Shermann and Wayne Kreklow (MSHOF 2016) and Columbia College’s Susan Kreklow (MSHOF 2016).

Gulshen’s devotion to players away from the court  – and Herriman never allowing her to settle for past success – wasn’t lost on Wrye-Washington, who combined those skills later as a coach. The Kreklows helped open the door to the college coaching world, and Columbia College athletic director and men’s basketball coach Bob Burchard was a positive influence.

“I was very fortunate over the years to be in the hands of very successful, hard-working individuals,” Wrye-Washington said.

Her athletic career was unlike most others, considering she was a freshman on Eldon’s varsity volleyball team.

And yet she handled the pressure despite being high profile outside hitter, who had great jumping ability for her height (5-foot-7), quick hands and a strong arm. Plus, she was ultra-competitive. To enhance her volleyball IQ, Wrye-Washington spent summers in Iowa, training under Craig Shermann in the United States Volleyball Association.

“Maturing in the program and eventually turning into a leader was a unique learning experience,” Wrye-Washington said. “The trips to state were so much fun and the community really supported the volleyball program throughout each season. We expected to win. Therefore, we had a culture of expectation – of self, of teammates, and of victory.”

College was a completely different animal. Shermann and Kreklow called her “Terminator.”

“The joke was that every time “Minnow” got set, the ball was going to be ‘a terminal play one way or the other.’ So basically I was getting a kill, or it was going to be an explosive error,” Wrye-Washington said. “Coming from a small community and high school it took me awhile to get on track in the collegiate game.”

In the summer before she transferred to Columbia College, she began thinking of a coaching career. At the time, she was traveling to high school camps and local clinics with the Kreklows.

For Wrye-Washington, many others helped shape who she became –husband John, daughter Madison, son Michael and his wife Sadie, grandchildren Jade and Aza and, of course, players.

“I loved listening on long bus rides to the students as they worked through conversations with multiple countries and languages being combined,” Wrye-Washington said. “I believe that each of those student-athletes as well as myself had unforgettable experiences and, above all, worked towards a common goal through great diversity and sometimes opposition!  It was a very educational and fun journey from year to year with some great memories.”