If the life of an NCAA Division I athlete is hectic, Eagan junior McKenna Melville will face few surprises when she leaves high school to play volleyball at the University of Central Florida. That’s because she is a two-sport competitor who is also part of the Wildcats’ softball team, a rare combination for such a high-level athlete.
Melville can focus solely on her No. 1 sport during the high school volleyball season in the fall. The spring, however, is a flurry of school, softball and club volleyball that means plenty of long and hectic days. A recent softball game at Shakopee provided an example.
McKenna started the game at third base and went 1-for-2 at the plate with three runs-batted-in. In the middle of the game, however, she gathered her belongings from the bench and scurried, along with her grandfather, to his car for a drive to Northern Lights club volleyball headquarters in Burnsville.
McKenna’s club team was practicing for a weekend tournament that could vault them to a national tournament this summer. The workouts were mandatory so she knew she would have to leave the softball game early.
Before the season Melville met with first-year Eagan softball coach Christian Duncan, who was willing to let her miss time due to her volleyball responsibilities. Classmate and softball teammate Taylor Anderson, who will play hockey at Minnesota Duluth, has similar commitments with that sport.
For McKenna, getting from the softball game to volleyball practice wasn’t as logistically simple as it may sound. Her dad, Corey Melville, was out of town, her twin brother Michael was running in a track meet and their mom, Eagan volleyball coach Kathy Gillen Melville, was at the track meet to cheer for Michael. Grandpa and grandma came to the rescue.
“I called Grandpa and he drove me,” McKenna said. “Grandma made me dinner, I ate it in the car, changed in the car and got there with five minutes to spare.”
Such is life for Melville, whose Eagan volleyball team has won the last two Class 3A state championships.
“I’ve missed some practice time and there are games when I’m the first person in line to shake hands and then I sprint to the car,” she said. “It helps to have my parents pack food for me. And I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it without people driving me around.”
One day this week was fairly typical for McKenna: Her alarm went off at 6 a.m. and she was at school by 6:55 for some help with history homework before school started at 7:25. Her class schedule -- including Honors Chemistry, Advanced Placement Language, Honors Pre-Calculus, History and Spanish – filled the day until the last bell at 2:15. She went home and took a nap before softball practice. She left a few minutes before practice ended, made it home for a quick dinner and had volleyball practice from 6 until 8 p.m. Bedtime was around 10 p.m.
“I wanted to play softball but it was the whole juggling two-sports thing that was throwing me for a loop,” she said. “Our new coach seemed like a really nice guy and he said, ‘Let’s try it, why not?’ ”
Through the first eight games of the season, McKenna is hitting .333 with seven runs-batted-in, three doubles, three walks and no strikeouts.
“We knew going in there would be conflicts, but usually there’s not,” Duncan said. “It’s been a good mix. A couple times she’s had to leave practice early, but she’s certainly not the only player with things like that. We have kids who are doing things to prepare for the next step in life.”
McKenna is an energetic force on the volleyball court, and she plays a similar role on the softball field.
“She’s got a rocket arm, I’m sure from serving all those years,” Duncan said. “At Shakopee we were down 8-1 (before winning 13-8) and she was in the huddle saying, ‘We’ve got this, we’re fine, let’s go.’ She’s special, mentally and physically.
“She’s smiling and having fun but when she’s batting her eyes are as big as quarters. She’s locked in and ready to do it for the team.”
Kathy Gillen Melville, who was inducted into the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014, said she has had a few volleyball players who participated in other sports, usually track athletes who were long, high or triple jumpers. That allowed them to compete in the early portion of track meets before leaving for club volleyball.
“The time commitment is big,” mom/coach said of McKenna’s two-sport lifestyle. “There are some days, when she drives to softball practice and then to volleyball practice, I’ll put something in the car for her to eat.”
McKenna grew up playing both sports and plays club softball in the summer. She didn’t play high school softball last season because of volleyball recruiting trips. This spring, having a hectic schedule is part of life.
“It’s another ball in the air, for sure,” she said. “It definitely takes away from my social time a little bit, but half the fun of softball is the girls on the team. They are so funny and they’re so great to be around.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 614
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 10,159
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn