COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M former volleyball standout Tori Mellinger will take her talents overseas this fall, having signed a professional contract to play for SCU Emlichheim in Emlichheim, Germany.
Mellinger, one of three former Texas A&M volleyball players who will be competing professionally in the upcoming season, was a mainstay on the court for the Aggies throughout her four-year career. The versatile athlete served as the team’s designated libero her first two seasons and was a starting outside hitter in 2011 and 2012. She finished her college career ranked second in the A&M record books with 1,480 career digs, the most by an Aggie player in the rally scoring era, including the 30-point scoring cap which began in 2001.
“I always thought about playing overseas, but I realized it was what I really wanted to do at the end of my junior year,” said Mellinger, whose desire to continue her volleyball career beyond college was heightened after traveling to China with a summer team prior to her senior year at A&M. “I knew I wouldn’t be done after just one more year. I wanted more than that, and the trip to China confirmed that playing internationally was something I wanted to do.”
The Dallas native will play libero for SCU Emlichheim, and she will be reunited with former Aggie teammate Jola Kelner, who was a senior on the 2009 A&M team when Mellinger was a freshman. Kelner, who is entering her fourth season in the European professional ranks and her second year as the setter for SCU Emlichheim, played a key role in recruiting Mellinger to the German team after stopping by to visit her college coaches, Texas A&M head coach Laurie Corbelli and associate head coach John Corbelli, during a trip to College Station in late spring.
“Laurie and John were asking Jola how her team was doing, and she said they were doing well and asked if any of our seniors wanted to play,” Mellinger recounted. “They told her that I was interested, and she said her team needed a libero and an outside. She emailed her coach and we started talking. I had a little bit of interest from some other teams but nothing quite as definite as this offer from Germany. It was the first offer, and it is the one I took.
“Jola has said nothing but good things about the team, which really helped make my decision that much easier. She is going back for her second year, as is the other American on the team, Alicia Nelson from Stony Brook. The fact that they both were so looking forward to going back and they just raved about the coaches was really reassuring.
“It also will be awesome having someone I know on the team. Jola knows the ropes and has been there before. She is someone who I have memories with, and we can reminisce about our days at A&M.”
Mellinger also will get an opportunity to meet up with another former Aggie teammate and mentor, 6-2 All-American outside hitter Sarah Ammerman. Ammerman and Kelner both were seniors on Texas A&M’s 2009 NCAA Sweet 16 team when Mellinger was a rookie, and Ammerman also was Mellinger’s teammate on the American squad that toured China. This time, however, the former teammate will be on the opposing side of the net as Ammerman plays for VT Aurubis Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany.
Mellinger appreciates the Aggie network, having received meaningful advice and guidance not only from Kelner and Ammerman, but also from former A&M teammates Jennifer Banse and Kelsey Black, who each also experienced professional stints in Europe. Mellinger also is quick to acknowledge her college coaches, Laurie and John Corbelli and assistant coach Steve Greene.
“I feel like I was coached by the wisest coaches in the country and maybe the world while at A&M,” Mellinger said. “They are so great. When I went to China, I feel like I was one of the few girls in my group who was prepared, yet I had the least amount of experience.”
“A&M has prepared me in every way possible for this next step. I feel completely confident that my training will help me succeed over there. I’m really going to miss Aggieland, but every new experience comes with new wisdom, so I’m just going to embrace it.
Mellinger, who has never been to Germany, also is confident that she will quickly adjust to the league’s style of play, which is slightly different than the Aggies’ fast-paced, high-octane offense.
“They set everything up high and they just pound the ball,” she said. “It is not the fast game the Aggies play, but I have played against some teams with a similar style, so I’m not too worried about it. It is a slower more powerful game with really big hitters. And I get to dig those big power hitters, which is my favorite thing to do.”
Mellinger admits that, in addition to the language barrier, one of her biggest challenges will be that she’ll be so far from home.
“Every player that goes overseas worries about getting homesick,” she said. “Fortunately I get a Christmas break so I’ll get to come home for a little bit, but I definitely do worry about missing home and missing my family.
“Other than that, there is the communication thing. I’m trying to learn German, but it is really hard. Everyone has told me you pick up on it when that is all you hear, but I’m still a little nervous. It is one of the scary things about going over there, but it is also one of the most fun things. Who gets to go to Germany for a year, learn German and play volleyball? Not a lot of people get to go do that and do what they love, and I feel very fortunate.”
Mellinger, who capped her college career by helping captain the Aggies to the Southeastern Conference Western Division title, the second round of the NCAA Championship and an 25-6 overall record in 2012, plans to play professional volleyball as long as possible and then move into the coaching field once her playing career comes to an end.
“I want to play volleyball until my legs fall off,” she said. “I really hope to make it a long ongoing process, and whenever I’m finished playing, my plan is to go to grad school, be a graduate assistant coach and get into the coaching world.”
Mellinger reports to Emlichheim August 9, the same day the Aggies officially gather for the first time in preparation of the 2013 season.
“I owe a huge thank you to A&M and to Laurie, John and Steve and the entire support staff,” Mellinger added. “The last four years have been the best four years I could have ever imagined. If I could do it all over again, I would.”