Photo by Derrick Mahone
Dan Maehlman will return to the helm of Jonesboro’s volleyball program after taking a brief step back for now retired coach Paul Cook.
JONESBORO — Dan Maehlman never knew it would be so hard to give up volleyball.
That’s perhaps the reason why, in a year that now retired coach Paul Cook was given the opportunity to be at the helm of the Cardinals' program in place of Maehlman, the Jonesboro athletic director and multi-sport coach couldn’t stay away.
“The year that I was trying to give it up, I didn’t do a very good job of it,” Maehlman said. “I wanted to give [Cook] an opportunity to be the head coach in his last year. He’s been my assistant forever. I tried to distance myself away from it, but I just couldn’t do it.”
It wasn’t because he was bored, or because the Cardinals boys’ basketball coach was just trying to find something to pass the time before hoops season rolled around again. Maehlman said he genuinely took an affinity to the game — albeit an unexpected one.
“I just never thought I would’ve grown to like the sport so much,” said Maehlman, who is also the school’s baseball coach. “I didn’t think I would grow to like coaching girls that much either, but they seem to grow a lot more than the guys do. They seem to be more eager to learn.”
Last season, the Cardinals volleyball squad gave Maehlman a lot to like as it was headlined by basketball standouts Briana Benson and Kimberly Dawkins.
Jonesboro pushed several of the areas perennial upper echelon teams — including region 4-AAAA champion Woodland — to the limits on its way to a region runner-up finish and state tournament berth. The Cardinals finished 38-10 overall and 7-1 in the area.
For a while, the Cardinals have been an anomaly of volleyball prowess in Clayton County. But Maehlman, who is officially re-assuming his head coaching duties in lieu of Cook’s retirement, said there are no shortcuts to the longevity of Jonesboro's volleyball success.
"It’s kind of the same way as it’s been for the past 12 or 13 years here,” he said. “We don’t ever start off looking really good in the summer. We don’t have the girls up here that play volleyball year around. We have to spend all year teaching them everything so we can get as close to polished by region tournament time as we can get.”
As the upcoming season looms, Jonesboro will be looking to dominate the county again, and challenge for a region title, despite having to replace several key cogs. Returning for the Cardinals will be rising senior Kendall Thomas, rising junior Michaelle Smith and emerging sophomore-to-be Victoria Sutton.
That, Maehlman said, is the big three he wants to build this year’s team around. Maehlman said he likes to utilize a 5-1 offensive set when he has a good setter and athletic girls who can “hit pretty well.” He’ll trot the girls out in a 6-2 when he feels comfortable with multiple setters.
For Maehlman, all depends on the talent available, which he knows he’ll have, but he is not sure exactly how deep the talent goes yet.
“We had 80-something girls sign up that were interested in playing volleyball this year,” he said. “I’m sure we should be able to get 12 to 15 girls and turn them into something by the time region tournament time begins. We don’t just step out on the court like a McIntosh, Woodward or a Whitewater and just bang and bang. Hitting, technique on hitting, serving — those are the things we teach them everyday. It's very basic.”
Basic or not, Maehlman said he feels good about the direction his Cardinals are going in 2013.
“We have some pieces coming back that should make us remain pretty competitive in our region,” he said. “As of right now, I have no idea what we’re going to run or anything like that. But as the year goes along, I know they’ll get stronger.”