Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Hadli Daniels is in her first year as head coach of the Wolves girls varsity volleyball team.
Hadli Daniels is the first-year head volleyball coach at Buford. The former Georgia volleyball player took over the still-young program from Marianne Cagle this season.
In this installment of “Getting to Know...” staff writer Ben Beitzel talks with Daniels about starting a new volleyball program, choosing Georgia over perennial power Penn State and the teacher’s fear of public speaking.
BB: You started playing volleyball in high school. That’s pretty late to make a career out of it.
HD: (My mom) always had me into other sports. I played soccer. I played tennis. Volleyball wasn’t big, and probably still much isn’t, on the East Coast. They didn’t have middle school volleyball like they do out here.
BB: Well, Mom got you started.
HD: I fell in love with it right away. My best friend and I started together and fell in love with it and that’s all we wanted to do. Our high school had an amazing coach, we had a great team, won the state championship three years in a row. It was just fun to play volleyball obviously.
BB: I assume the winning helped, but you had to have some other parts of volleyball that kept you coming back.
HD: I played basketball and tennis all through high school as well, but I really like that it’s a non-contact sport. You have control over what you are doing. Nobody can bump you. You have control over a hit. From the beginning, my mom took me when I first started playing, she used to take me to a sand court on a men’s net and that was before I started playing. She had me hitting balls on a men’s net in sand so when I went out on the court, I was like, ‘Wow, this is awesome, this is great.’ I just love putting the ball away. There is no better feeling than that. Well, maybe blocking one straight down. But it is just a fun sport. I feel like here and over the country it doesn’t get that much attention, but when people come watch it they say, ‘Wow that was interesting. I really enjoyed watching it.’ It’s a fun sport to play and to watch when it is being played at a high level.
BB: You graduated from Georgia in 1996 and didn’t get into coaching until much later. What did you do in the interim?
HD: I took some time off. I didn’t go to college to become a teacher. I had my first son right out of college. I waited tables for a while, just odd jobs. After I had my second son, I thought teaching would be a great career. Everything just sort of fell into place for me. One of the ladies at my church suggested that I talk to someone here (at Buford). They had an opening for a parapro and I got that. The only question they asked on my interview was would you be interested in helping with the volleyball program because five years ago Buford was just starting. I said, ‘Sure.’ So they hired me as a parapro and I went back to school and got my teaching certificate and everything just sort of fell into place for me.
BB: You’ve been here from the start?
HD: The first year they had an actual team I was the JV coach. (Marianne Cagle) started it and built it up to what it is. This is my first year as head coach, but I’ve been JV and assistant the past four years. I have watched her and learned from her.
BB: Do you like being the head coach?
HD: I love coaching volleyball. I didn’t really know if I wanted to get back into it when I started teaching, but the second I had my own team I just loved that. ... Every year we just had great chemistry on the team and the girls make it so fun for me. I don’t ever want the season to end. It’s so much fun coming here every day. The girls make it so much fun. They make it worth it.
BB: Do you still play?
HD: Really now I just coach. I tried to play for a few years after I had my son, but after the second one, you know, it gets harder to jump and do all that. I jump out and play with (the team) at practice and that sort of fulfills my need to play a little bit. I would like to start playing, but there is no time.
BB: Do you have to sell people on volleyball? Do you work to get players to come join the team?
HD: From year to year it has definitely gotten easier. The first year we were begging people to play and looking for athletes and looking for anyone with some height on them. It is still a little difficult. Basketball is kind of the big sport here and you see these tall athletic girls come in and they are so focused on basketball that it is hard when you see those athletes and you think, ‘Oh, come play.’ But there is definitely more and more interest every year. Now I have girls asking, ‘When are tryouts?’ I think as the team has built each year and gotten better and better and more people come to watch girls realize that it’s a competitive sport. In the past they thought, ‘It’s kind of a girly sport.’ When you play in P.E. it’s just bump-bump-bump over the net, but when they see hitting, blocking they think, ‘That’s something I could do. It’s not just a sport for anyone.’
BB: It does get a lot of cross-sport interest. Moreso than many sports.
HD: We just have so many good athletes here at Buford and most of the girls to multi-sports, they are involved in more than one, which is a good thing, we love for that to happen. A lot of the girls hang around the gym after school and those are the ones that are playing other sports and are thinking, ‘Maybe that might be interesting.’ That is common here at Buford.
BB: Massachusetts to Georgia must have been interesting for you.
HD: I love Georgia. I would never move anywhere else. I would never move back north. I know my mom would hate to hear me say that, but it is definitely the state for me. The weather is better, the people and especially the Buford community, I don’t think I could ever leave Buford.
BB: Through those post-college years, how did you get to Buford?
HD: We started, we kept moving more and more north. We were in Norcross, then Duluth and have been in Buford the past six years and we feel this is our home.
BB: What was your major in college, if not teaching?
HD: Exercise science. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I actually picked the only major that I didn’t have to take a speech class (laughs). I picked it because public speaking is not my thing.
HD: It’s just a fear. I have always been kind of reserved and kind of shy until I get to know people. Obviously teaching and coaching has brought me out of my shell a little. It’s tough to get up in front of people. We have senior night and all week I’ve been like, ‘Ooohhh. I have to get up and be on a microphone.’ It’s just always been a fear.
BB: I don’t want to ruin this for you, but you are doing public speaking every day as a teacher.
HD: It’s different with kids. You are helping students and you are making an impact on their lives and especially now. Each year it gets easier and easier. When you are young and you start out with high school kids it can be difficult and intimidating. As I get older and kids get younger, it definitely gets easier.
BB: You teach special education. That is not a fast education turnaround.
HD: I went to school for two years. I was a parapro for a year and a teaching position opened and I had always thought about going into special ed because my sister is mentally handicapped. I have always had a heart for that. I just thought, ‘This is meant to be.’ They hired me knowing I would go back to school. I just finished out last May and this head coaching position opened up and it all just worked out.
BB: Where is Midway, Mass.?
HD: (laughs) No one has ever heard of it. It is actually about 30 minutes right outside of Boston. It’s a really small town. I went to a really small high school. We had cows running around. Definitely not city life. We had 100 kids in my graduating class.
BB: You picked Georgia over Penn State to play volleyball. Why?
HD: When I came to Georgia I just fell in love with it. I knew when I was down here. I remember on the plane ride home, I called my mom and I was like, ‘This is it.’ I cancelled all my other visits. I just knew it was for me.
BB: I am not the most up on women’s volleyball, but I am fairly certain Penn State is better than Georgia.
HD: (laughs) They went to the Final Four every year that I was (at Georgia). It was a learning experience for me. I tell my girls this story. I don’t wish that I had made a different decision, but I didn’t go to Penn State because I was ... Their coach is very tough and I didn’t know if I could handle it. I was a very sensitive child when I was in high school and I didn’t know if I could handle it. I wish that I had pushed myself. I am definitely glad I came to Georgia, I had a great experience and wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, but sometimes wish that I had taken a chance. I wish I had confidence in myself. I tell my girls that all the time, just to say, ‘Don’t ever be scared.’ I may have been a better player if I had done that. I don’t regret the choice to go (to Georgia), but I wish it wasn’t for that reason.
BB: You have two sons, Aubrey (11) and Ashton (6). They are boys at Buford. Do they play football?
HD: Ashton does. My younger one just started. He is on the 6-year-old team and they are currently undefeated. He’s a great little player.
BB: Did you grow up with football?
HD: I remember watching the Patriots. I remember when they went to the Super Bowl. I have always been interested in sports. I am definitely a tomboy, I remember watching with my dad. I have always been interested. High school (in Georgia) is so much different. You could compare Buford to a university. It’s just an awesome feeling to be a part of that. I love having my kids come up around that. It makes it fun. Buford is special. You just can’t compare it. We just have to get our volleyball program up there (with the football team).