Tivy’s Paige Melcher rises to earn a block during the Lady Antlers’ win over Fredericksburg on Aug. 20.

During the second Tivy volleyball practice, first-year coach Stephanie Coates gathered the Lady Antlers’ four returning varsity players into her office to issue a challenge.

At this time, most people weren’t expecting much from the Lady Antlers this fall. Even middle blocker Paige Melcher didn’t have high aspirations for her senior season. She didn’t think she and the Lady Antlers were going to be terrible, but at the same time, she wasn’t expecting them to be great, either. After all, she and Savana Trahan were the only two seniors on their 11-player roster, and junior Keirson Jalowy and sophomore Ally Scheidle were the only other teammates who played on varsity last season. Such a lack of experience wasn’t exactly a surefire recipe for success.

But in her office that day, Coates challenged the four returners to step up as leaders. Coates was aware she had a young team, but she also knew that her veterans could help accelerate the rebuilding process.

Her message was certainly received by Melcher. Through 29 games, Melcher has helped lead the Lady Antlers (21-8, 4-0 District 26-5A) to their best start since 2014. Now, she’s the first to admit that it’s been a team effort. Scheidle has become one of the most versatile players in the area, posting triple-doubles in four of the last five matches. Trahan and Jalowy help form a formidable backline, and sophomores Shayla Slaughter, Kindal Brown and Kaylee Coffee have quickly acclimated to the varsity level.

Melcher’s performance, though, has played a big role in Tivy’s early season success. She started the season as an outside hitter, but switched to middle blocker when sophomore Kaylee Coffee suffered an injury during the Lady Antlers’ season-opening win over Fredericksburg. She has since excelled in that spot, registering 163 kills, 53 serving aces and 23 blocks. She delivered another strong performance during Tivy’s three-set thrashing of Kennedy (25-6, 25-15, 25-15) on Tuesday, earning her first double-double of the season (10 aces and 12 digs).

“Paige is a senior leader on the team,” Coates said. “She helps anchor our offense and bring composure and experience to the middle of the court. She also challenges teams off the serve and plays great defense for us on the back line during her serving rotation.

“She is very versatile, athletic and has a high volleyball IQ.”

In a way, Melcher began training for volleyball when she played on the Tivy softball team last spring. She was a key contributor on one of the best softball squads in Lady Antler history, continuing to deliver clutch hits during critical moments to help Tivy advance to the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2001. Her softball coach Jeremy Hickman noticed an interesting phenomenon: Her confidence began to grow after each big hit.

Needless to say, Hickman has enjoyed hearing about his players’ success on the volleyball court.

“It’s made me absolutely ecstatic,” said Hickman, who is also Tivy’s defensive coordinator. “She’s had a great year. I keep up with her stats, and obviously (the football coaches) don’t get a chance to see the volleyball team play very much because of our schedule, but I hope I get to because I’m super ecstatic with her stats and I know she’s giving

great effort and being coachable.

“I am extremely proud of her for the year that she’s had so far and that she’s going to continue to have because she’s going to do nothing but get better, because she’s going to work harder every single day.”

She definitely worked hard to become a better athlete during the summer, attending Tivy’s 7 a.m. strength and conditioning sessions during the summer. The only week she missed the optional SAC camp was when she went on a family vacation. She admits those early morning workouts — and her junior softball season — set her up for success on the volleyball court

“(Softball and summer camp) helped me a lot, especially because coach Hickman is a really hard coach,” Melcher said. “He knows how to bring the best out of a player and athlete.”

Melcher, however, didn’t just become more confident as a player, she also had to learn how to be more comfortable as a leader. She’s naturally quiet, preferring to serve as a role player. As a senior, though, she knew she couldn’t shy away from a leadership role. She’s become more vocal during matches. When the Lady Antlers struggled at the beginning of the fourth set against McCollum last Tuesday, it was Melcher who gave her teammates the words of encouragement they needed.

“Come on, guys,” she implored. “We need to pick this up. Let’s fight.”

Her message was promptly received. The Lady Antlers eventually cruised to a 25-18 win in set four to seal a victory over the Cowgirls in a key district match.

“She has grown a lot as a leader,” Trahan said. “She talks a lot, she’s encouraging. She helps girls out when they are messing up. When games get intense, she shows energy and fight and that she wants to win. That rubs off on the team.”

In other words, Melcher and the rest of the Lady Antlers couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season. At the same time, they are only a quarter of the way through district play and still have to play Wagner and Boerne Champion, two of the strongest teams in loop contention. To win a district title, the Lady Antlers know they have to keep improving.

One thing is certain: Melcher is excited to see what the rest of the season holds for her and her teammates.

“We aren’t just friends on the court because we have to, but we all genuinely love each other,” Melcher said. “I can’t even put it into words how excited I am because I know how much potential we have and how good we can be.”

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