08/30/10 — Leading with her face

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Leading with her face

By Laura Collins
Published in News on August 30, 2010 1:46 PM

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Reporter Laura Collins tries her hand at being a volleyball coach at Mount Olive College under the tutelage of Coach Cole Tallman.

The Job: Volleyball coach

The Company: Mount Olive College

The Location: Mount Olive

I'm not a conspiracy theorist.

I don't think the moon landing was a hoax; I don't think there's a UFO hidden in New Mexico; and I don't think Tupac and Elvis are living somewhere together.

However, I do know there was something strange going on at Mount Olive College last Thursday.

I was lured to the campus under the guise of coaching soccer for the day. When I arrived at the sports arena, the soccer coach was unavailable. But quick to fill his shoes was head volleyball coach Cole Tallman. It all worked out a little too well, if you ask me.

Administrative assistant Tina Parks led me to the gym where practice was just about to begin and introduced me to Tallman.

"I think she needs some of those spandex shorts and some knee pads," Ms. Parks said.

"That is the exact opposite of what I need," I quickly interjected. "I think there's been a misunderstanding. I'm here to coach, not play. Maybe I should have a whistle and a clipboard."

"No, you can play with the girls," he said. I looked around. I was waist-high to most of the girls on the court. I scrambled for some excuses.

"I don't think that's a good idea, I'm only 5 foot 5," I said.

"So? Feliz Ramirez is 5 foot 6 and she's one of the best players Texas has to offer."

"I don't have tennis shoes. And you probably don't have my size. I wear a 6," was my second excuse.

Then Feliz piped up.

"I have an extra pair you can borrow, and I wear a 6 and a half," she said.


Before I knew it I was in a team volleyball shirt and tennis shoes. The shorts were still a no-go. I have belts that cover more skin than they do. I had to put my foot down on something.

We started off doing some passing drills, and I practiced the basics of the sport. The girls on the team were really supportive and encouraging, not just to me, but to each other as well. They have only been practicing together for about two weeks now, but already they seemed like a cohesive team.

"It's such a team-oriented sport," Tallman said. "One girl can be really good, but someone else has to be really good as well for anything to happen."

After the drills, the team decided to play a couple matches with each other. I decided to sit this one out and take some notes. Plus my arms were throbbing from hitting the volleyball. This did not go over well with the coach.

"Are you writing your next novel or are you going to get back on the court?" he said.

So I got up and rejoined the game. It's always a special feeling being the least talented person in the room. I took my spot at the very back near the out-of-bounds line. Coach said some of the balls can reach up to 70 miles per hour, so I was trying my hardest to stay out of its way.

Assistant Coach Hans Hillestad told me something that was meant to be reassuring.

"Don't worry, Laura, if it hits you in the face, it really doesn't hurt that bad," he said.

Luckily, I didn't have to wait long to find out how true that wasn't. The first ball that was hit in my direction I went after with my arms stretched out in traditional volleyball fashion. Unfortunately, it completely missed my arms and connected with my face.

There were a couple of "oohs" I heard throughout the gym, then Feliz piped up again.

"You had really good movement, though," she said. I think that's volleyball speak for "nice try," but I very much appreciated the sentiment.

Soon after I decided to stand with Tallman and watch the girls play. I was impressed by not only their speed and efficiency, but also their teamwork and encouraging remarks to each other. And I wasn't the only one who was impressed with the girls. Coach Tallman thinks the world of them, too, not only of their accomplishments on the court but off the court.

"One of the girls also plays softball, one is an accomplished traditional dancer, two are in choir, and one is in the musicals here at school. They are productive in life and productive on the court. These girls are talented, but what's even more impressive is their work ethic," he said. "In volleyball, every play ends in a mistake. That failure is what makes them get better and get great."

It was then that I understood how Tallman has over 700 career wins. He's not only a coach, but a teacher. He's proud of his team, and is the girls' biggest cheerleader -- on and off the court.