Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Brian Williamson, in his fourth year at Mill Creek, is the head coach for girls lacrosse and volleyball. Williamson has also coached at Meadowcreek and Villa Rica.
Brian Williamson is the head coach for girls lacrosse and volleyball at Mill Creek. He's in his fourth year at the Hoschton school and has turned the lacrosse program into the top one in Gwinnett County. The Hawks are ranked No. 6 in the state and 12-1 so far this season.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...," Williamson talks with staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including starting the volleyball program at Villa Rica in his first job out of college, learning to coach lacrosse and trying unsuccessfully to return wedding presents.
CT: Where did you grow up?
BW: Warner Robins, Ga. I played baseball in high school all the way through. I played some other sports here and there -- a little bit of golf, a little bit of tennis -- but baseball was what I did. Until I went to college. Then I was tired of baseball. I'd played so much of it. I got heavily into volleyball. I've coached that now for 12 years. I've coached ever since my first year teaching.
But when I ended up at West Georgia, I finished up college there and that's where I really got heavily into playing volleyball.
CT: Looking back, do you wish volleyball was a men's sport in high school?
BW: I don't know how early I would have picked it up. I definitely wish it was. It's still not down there. It's there for the girls a little bit. It's not like it is with all the clubs and things in Atlanta. But definitely, after I started playing, I was like, "Wow, where has this been?"
Once we started playing and trying to teach ourselves to play -- we were really bad, but we loved it so much we were playing all the time. We had makeshift courts in the backyard with flour as sidelines. We just really got into it. It was bigger at West Georgia, because the school is so much bigger and I got into it more there. There were a lot of us who decided to start playing. There were a couple of really nice courts at some churches and we were playing there.
CT: When you headed off to college, was teaching the idea?
BW: I was at Middle Georgia College and I was doing accounting. I found out really quickly that I hated it. I was a math-minded guy and I didn't enjoy the business and the rules and the laws of accounting. So I switched over to math teaching my second year of college. That's what I stuck with from there on out.
CT: What was your first job out of college?
BW: Villa Rica High School. That's also where I did my student teaching for a full semester. It's actually kind of a funny story because they offered me a job in the spring, pretty early on. The principal came down one day and I shared with him my desire to coach volleyball. Carroll County didn't have volleyball. He says, "OK." He comes down the next day and said, "I made a call to the county and if you will come and teach here, we will let you start a volleyball program."
I spent my summer and spring getting ready for that. We started one, as did a couple of other schools. So the next fall, I was teaching at Villa Rica and I was coaching the volleyball team. It was quite an experience. Right out of the gate, I didn't know anything about coaching it. But it was a lot of fun and a very rewarding experience. I taught there for five years before I ended up in Gwinnett County.
CT: There are coaches that can say they started a program, but not too many that can say they facilitated the beginning of a program.
BW: And it wasn't intentional. It wasn't a laying out of demands. I just never dreamed of that. All the Douglas County schools nearby had volleyball. This was back in 2000, so there were no teams anywhere. So when he came back down, it was like, "Oh, wow." It was just perfect. It was what I wanted to do.
CT: How was the first year?
BW: It was a big learning experience. Volleyball was still new. We went 11-20. I had a lot of girls who were very new to it, but a lot of the athletes came out and wanted to play. So we kept a varsity program only the first year and then started a JV program the next year.
Just to win 11 games was exciting. Then we won around 35 my second and third years and went to the state playoffs. Even though it was still new, we just had a lot of good athletes and the girls were excited about playing. I had a ton of energy. I don't have as much now as I had then. I had a lot then. I was pretty young and pretty crazy and I just enjoyed being there. We really had a lot of fun. Really good support from my AD and fellow coaches.
CT: Leaving there, to come to Gwinnett, what convinced you to make that move?
BW: I stepped down at the end of the fifth year, at the banquet, and that was a big surprise to everyone. My wife is from Gwinnett County and we had just had our first child. We decided to move back over this way. We wanted to be closer to her family so we decided to make the transition over here.
I finished up the school year there, did some interviewing, and sometime in the spring that year, I took a job at Meadowcreek. I was there for three years and then I came over to Mill Creek.
CT: Were the coaching jobs available at the same time you came over?
BW: When I came over, Analisa Wendt was the head volleyball coach. I was brought over to be the assistant varsity coach. Also, they knew they were going to be starting a lacrosse program so part of that interview process was looking for someone to start the program.
I wasn't very excited about that, to put it nicely. I wasn't looking forward to it at all. It was part of what they needed and I took that on. We didn't start it the first year I was there and even coming into second year, I wasn't very excited about it.
But that quickly changed. The girls are fantastic. The parents are great. The kids love the program, love the opportunity to play. So it's been nothing but a blessing.
CT: How much did you know about lacrosse?BW: Nothing. I watched a lot of videos. I was on YouTube. I was reading. I was watching anything I could find. I read the rules a lot. I read the rule book several times. Even in Year 1, it was a big learning curve. Last year, I learned a ton as well. I'm still going to clinics and camps, watching college games on TV and in person. I'm still learning a lot and enjoying the opportunity to do so.
CT: The rise of Mill Creek lacrosse was fairly swift though. You made the state playoffs last year.
BW: We were in it the first year, too. We got beat in the first round by a team that went to the finals. We ended up 17-3 or so and we had a great season that year. But yeah, we were beat down pretty heavily in the playoffs.
Then we were in it again last year and got, actually, the first ever Gwinnett County girls playoff win against Hillgrove. Then we got beat by Milton in the second round, who won state. Again.
But yeah, the swiftness, I can't take credit for that.
CT: I was going to say it must be the coaching.
BW: (laughing) No, no. Definitely not. The association here has been big. When we started the program, they had high school club teams. But not only that, this year, the program has three U15 teams. They're running about 20 a team and half of those kids will be ninth-graders at Mill Creek next year. Every year, when we're making cuts, we have 30 freshmen at tryouts. We kept like 25, some on varsity, some on JV.
We're starting a ninth-grade team next year. Collins Hill had one this year, but we're starting one next year to boost the program.
So, sure, we have great athletes, we have great kids. We're always looking for the track athletes and the softball players to come out. That's been successful this year. That combined with what the youth association is doing -- even our JV team has lost one game badly, that was to Walton, but all the teams in the county, they are beating by 12 or 14 goals. Just like the varsity. But that's because every kid except one or two on the JV has been playing for two or three years. They're not new to the game.
I wish I could take credit. But it's not me.
CT: The women's game is considerably different from the men's. And different from sports like soccer or hockey. Is it tough to get used to?
BW: When you hear people in clinics give a description of the two, they say the girls game is a finesse game. You're essentially catching with a tennis racquet. Because there's almost no pocket in that stick. So it's considered a skill game. The boys is too, but it's a physical game. You have the deep pocket and they're hitting each other. Whereas the girls, it's similar to basketball. You can body a girl up, you can get physical. But you can't knock them over, you can't hit them with the stick.
It hasn't been a huge learning curve for me because I didn't coach boys. I didn't know anything else.
People argue that the girls need to play like the boys. But you'd have to change everything. You'd have to change the stick completely. If that stick gets hit now, with even a little bit of force, that ball comes out. Which is why I think it's so much more impressive to see a girl catch a ball from 35 yards away, on the run. It's hard.
CT: If you have free time, what do you like to do with it?
BW: Well, I have two girls now, so there's not a lot of free time.
CT: How old are they?
BW: Seven and 5, and I have one on the way.
But I play ultimate frisbee with some of the senior boys at the school and a few of the coaches. I still like to play sand volleyball and tennis.
CT: Do you have any favorite vacation spots?
BW: We go to Florida. My wife, especially, likes the beach. So do my kids. They love being in the sand and playing in the water. I grew up, my family always went to the mountains. I don't do that as much anymore, but we end up at the beach a lot.
My idea of vacation is doing nothing. Their idea is going to the beach and playing in the sand. So that's what we do.
CT: Can you compromise a little? Sit and do nothing while they play?
BW: Well, they allow me to go and find volleyball games down the beach and take the frisbee with me.
CT: Are there any TV shows you try not to miss?
BW: I watch "Pardon the Interruption," "Shark Tank" and "Law and Order." That's about it. With coaching and teaching and the girls, I don't see a lot of TV these days.
CT: Good thing there's DVR.BW: That's the thing, they all get taped. I see them all at 11 at night.
CT: How did you meet your wife?
BW: At West Georgia. We sort of have a disagreement about when we actually met. I remember meeting her at a luncheon at the Baptist Student Union. She remembers meeting on the flag football intramural field. But we were both involved in a couple of Christian organizations and just ran into each other.
CT: Do you remember any good wedding gifts you got?
BW: (pauses and chuckles) I only remember the funny stuff. You know, you end up taking things back because you get three or four of them. We ended up getting three of those really big cake cutting knives that were identical. So we went to take one back, to where we thought it came from, went in and took it out of the box. We didn't know it, but it had our names and the anniversary date engraved on the side of it. So we kept that one. We still have it.
I know we got a lot of stuff that we're still using, but I just remember that in particular because we tried to take it back and we were so embarrassed.