First-year Blinn College volleyball coach Erin Mellinger is relying on a roster loaded with championship experience to defend the Buccaneers’ 2011 national title.
Mellinger, who inherits a program that won its second national championship in four years last season, comes to Blinn from the College of Southern Idaho (CSI), where she has been an assistant coach for the last five seasons. Mellinger helped guide CSI to a national championship in 2009 and a sixth-place finish at last season’s tournament. During her time there, the team made three national tournament appearances, won two Region 18 championships and posted an overall record of 148-48.
Prior to her stint at CSI, Mellinger was the head coach at Lewis-Clark State College, a NAIA Division I program. She was also the head coach at Independence (Kan.) Community College, where she led the NJCAA Division I program to a 62-21 record over two seasons, coached two All-Americans and was named the NJCAA District K coach of the year.
Mellinger replaces David Rehr, who left Blinn in January to become the head coach at Division I Arkansas State University. In nine seasons at Blinn, Rehr led the Buccaneers to eight national tournament appearances, including national championships in 2008 and 2011. During that span, the Buccaneers amassed a 313-35 record and produced 14 NJCAA All-Americans and 11 American Volleyball Coaching Association All-Americans.
Mellinger will make her coaching debut with the Buccaneers on Friday, when they take on Victoria College at 2 p.m. at the Dana Hatch Invite at Tyler Junior College. Blinn will play Trinity Valley at 4 p.m. Friday before concluding the tournament Saturday with a noon match against Barton and a 2 p.m. contest with Tyler.
“I’m excited to see us play somebody else and see what we’re really made of,” said sophomore defensive specialist Molly Duge, one of three returning Buccaneers who already knows first-hand what it takes to win an NJCAA title. “We’re ready for it and it’s going to be a great season.”
The Buccaneers return one of the most explosive offensive players in the nation in sophomore outside hitter Ksenia Sukhareva. The Moscow, Russia native was second on the Buccaneers’ roster last season with 342 kills, good for 3.08 per set. She also led the team with 44 aces (0.40 per set).
The Buccaneers also return 6-foot-1 middle blocker Cassidy Melcher. The Giddings, Texas native averaged 0.46 blocks and 1.08 kills per set coming off the bench last season Duge averaged 0.96 digs per set last season.
“We have three players who were part of a national championship last year,” Mellinger said. “Their leadership and their knowledge of the game and the region will contribute a lot. I don’t think you could ask for three better people.”
Blinn has bolstered its sophomore class with a pair of transfers – right-side hitter Dani Schultz from Hamline University and libero/defensive specialist Ashten Landry from the University of Texas-Pan America. Schultz recorded 148 kills (1.95 per set) and 42 blocks (0.55 per set) last season at Hamline, while Landry posted 160 digs (1.55 per set) at UTPA.
Hope Cucancik, an outside hitter from Kirbyville, Texas, leads the Buccaneers’ incoming class of freshmen. Cucancik twice earned District 18-3A MVP honors at Kirbyville, leading her team to a bi-district championship her senior season.
Crystal Young, a setter out of Clearbrook High School, is coming off a senior year in which she was named the District 24-5A co-setter of the year and earned first-team all-district honors.
Mellinger’s roster includes a pair of highly-talented Brazilian region and state champions in outside hitter Evely Macedo and middle blocker Bruna Evanglelista, while setter Celeste Ramirez and libero Tori Estrada, both out of Antonian College Preparatory, boast state championships on their resumes as well. Ramirez, who won the state title in 2010 and 2011, was named the 2011 Texas Association of Private & Parochial Schools setter of the year, earned second-team all-state honors, was named all-Texas honorable mention and earned first-team all-district recognition for Antonian.
Outside hitter Tyanna Roy was a first-team all-league selection at Acalanes (Calif.) High School, and middle blocker Emily Salter was a first-team all-district selection out of Kingwood Park High School.
Right-side hitter Dylan Dean earned all-district honors out of Mountain Home, Idaho.
“I’m excited about the roster we’ve put together,” Mellinger said. “They’ve been working hard for the last two weeks, and I know I’ve pushed them a lot, but they’re getting better every single day.”
For more information on the Buccaneer volleyball team, please visit www.buccaneersports.com.