NZ volleyball finds new leader

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Melissa Padgett knows what it takes to win.

The 31-year-old has found success at both the high school and collegiate levels in a decorated young career that has now led to North Zulch. After a two-year break from coaching, Padgett will take control of the Lady Bulldogs volleyball program in the fall.

“I felt like this was the best fit for me,” said Padgett, who received offers elsewhere before taking the job at NZHS. “From what I have seen out of (the North Zulch players), I am promising a lot of championships in the future. I know what we are up against as a member of the toughest 2A district in the state. I really feel like we have an opportunity in the next couple of years to grow and become the top team in that district.”

Padgett attended Leon High School and was a member of one of the state’s most successful volleyball programs. She competed in three state championships with Leon, winning one.

After Leon, she was a member of the Temple College volleyball team. She helped lead the Leopards to two national championship tournaments, two conference titles and two regional championships. She also discovered what she wanted to do with her life.

“It was at Temple that I decided to be a coach,” said Padgett. “Up until that point, I thought I would get into physical therapy.”

She did not have to wait long for the first phone call. Padgett accepted a position to lead Teague’s volleyball program after graduating from Temple and won a district title with the Lions in her first season after a playoff drought that lasted over a decade.

She then accepted the head coaching position at Waco Connally before heading to Madisonville.

“I did not enjoy living in Waco,” said Padgett. “I am a small town girl, so that did not fit me very well. I got a call from Madisonville, which was a great fit and offered beautiful facilities.”

The move also allowed Padgett to be closer to her hometown of Marquez, where she has a sister with special needs. She works tirelessly with the rest of her siblings to ensure that her sister has the best care possible and will herself teach special needs at NZHS.

On the court, Padgett led the Lady Mustangs to over 50 victories in two memorable campaigns from 2015-16. Madisonville was ranked in the state both years and qualified for the playoffs. Both runs fell short due to untimely injuries, but Padgett describes them as her best coaching years.

But her time in the program was cut short. Both of Padgett’s parents passed away in a short period of time, which led to a difficult stretch for the young coach.

“I was really struggling,” said Padgett. “It was very hard for me to be passionate about what I was doing and coaching and teaching is a very stressful and time consuming job. I have taken the last two years off to basically grieve. There was not a lot of time to dedicate to my family, I needed to take that time.”

Padgett worked in the insurance industry before deciding it was time to get back on the court and in the classroom. She is supremely confident in the ability of her personnel and the strides they can make in the North Zulch volleyball program moving forward.

“I am very competitive, driven and passionate about this game and I do believe that there is a recipe for success,” said Padgett. “You have to cultivate it. Coming from a school that was so deep in that kind of culture, I think it is easier to teach the girls to believe that they can win. It is really just making them believe in themselves.”

Padgett will also assist with the basketball and track programs at North Zulch.

She is taking over the head job from Corina Barrington, who will remain an assistant coach for volleyball and the head coach for softball.

“The administration definitely knew that (volleyball) was not my specialty,” said Barrington, a graduate of NZHS and former University of Mary Hardin-Baylor softball player. “Luckily, I had a lot of support and enjoyed the season with the girls. I am extremely excited for the upcoming season, especially with (Padgett) coming in. I think she will be a great asset to the coaching staff and will develop the girls into phenomenal athletes.”

The North Zulch volleyball season is scheduled to begin at NZHS against Teague on Aug. 7. The junior varsity team will begin at 5 p.m. and will be followed by varsity.

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