Mill Creek’s senior outside hitter Cayla Graham plans to continue to playing volleyball at Brenau University in Gainesville. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
HOSCHTON — Cayla Graham keeps laughing.
Nothing overly rowdy or boisterous, but constant, an undercurrent to her conversation. Some sound nervous, others just a release. But they are always there.
“I laugh a lot,” Graham said, stressing the “a lot.” She jokes that she doesn’t need to workout her abs like others for all the chuckles.
“I’m not a crying person. I probably cried once this year,” she said.
She plans to study nursing in college and despite her interest in being a coroner, she plans to focus on epidemiology.
“It got a little morbid for me,” Graham said. “I decided I’d rather help people.”
Graham didn’t start playing volleyball for noble reasons, but the process to her sport followed a similar path to her career goals. Through fifth grade, Graham played soccer mostly, mixing in some basketball or baseball in her yard growing up. But in sixth grade she started with some volleyball camps at Suwanee Sports Academy.
“I played soccer at the time, but I just wasn’t having as much fun with it as I was having in the past,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ll try volleyball and I just picked it up.’”
She met Mill Creek’s head coach Brian Williamson toward the end of her eighth grade year and, knowing she would be a Hawk the next year, agreed to tryout for the team.
“My first real volleyball game came here (at Mill Creek),” Graham said. “I tried out and I made JV and that’s when everything got serious for me and I became interested.”
Immediately, Graham found success as an outside hitter. In her junior season alone, she blasted 287 kills.
“I like the aggressiveness of it,” Graham said. “I can go up and spike balls and battle for it, that’s my thing.”
And if you ask Williamson, she does it all quietly.
“For a kid that’s as good as she is, usually your better stronger players are normally pretty loud,” Williamson said. “She definitely is not. It does not impact the way she plays. She’s just not naturally loud. It’s just her. She is a good leader. She is not your typical real vocal volleyball player. She is very even tempered, shy, in many ways it’s amazing she ended up even playing.”
But once she started, she didn’t stop. After her freshmen season she joined the year-round circuit and plans to follow volleyball to a scholarship to play at Brenau University in Gainesville.
“I want to go to the top. I think Brenau is the top for me,” Graham said. “I like being close to home, my family is very important to me.”
Graham laughs when she thinks of all her volleyball matches and her mother there for nearly every one. She said the athletic gene skipped a generation in her family, with the sports interest laying with her grandparents more than her folks. But just like her mom collects every piece of pottery Graham creates and fires at Mill Creek, her parents are all-in on her volleyball. Just like Graham is on her volleyball career and nursing future.
“My parents are always gun-ho about everything,” said Graham, who is too. “I have always wanted to go as far as I can and do as best as I can.”
Graham’s GPA is a 3.9 and Williamson said she seems to never stop working; school, volleyball, homework, repeat. With a smile and a laugh but the loudest noise is her kills smacking the floor.
“She is one of the beloved kids on the team. She is one of the kids that no one dislikes,” Williamson said. “She’s the perfect kid you’d want on your team, except maybe I’d want her to be a little louder.”