As an eighth grade member of the first volleyball team in Lumpkin County, Haley Dibble started from the bottom.
Now as LCHS varsity volleyball head coach 11 years later, Dibble has climbed to the top, leading her 2020 squad to the best record in program history and only the second Sweet 16 appearance in program history in only her second year as coach. Earlier this month Dibble was saluted alongside her team at the Lumpkin County Board of Education meeting as they were recognized for their stellar season.
For Dibble, it all started as a family affair.
“When I was in eighth grade, my dad decided that he wanted to have a volleyball team because he played in college so it was a big deal in our family,” Dibble said. “So we started a team there and it was the first year we had volleyball in Lumpkin County.”
From there, Dibble played through her senior year at Lumpkin. After graduating, the plan was to go to college for nursing. However it was her love for the game that brought her back.
“When I was in college...I started thinking, ‘when was I the happiest?’ and it was volleyball,” she said. “So then when I started getting into teaching, I started coaching in college and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Now as a coach, the former player brings experience and credibility to the table, having not only been in their shoes as a high school volleyball player, but also a player for Lumpkin.
“She knows what we’re going through, she knows what we’re experiencing,” senior Isabel Davenport said of Dibble’s playing experience. “She’s been there. She’s done it. She’s been through the practices so she knows what’s at stake.”
COACHING IS KEY
Dibble is the first to say that coaching is completely different than playing the sport, but that isn’t the only change she’s noticed from her playing days.
“It’s really cool to see how far the program has come, because when you’re playing it’s a whole different ballgame than when you’re coaching,” Dibble said. “But just the level that volleyball has improved is insane to me. … It’s just blown me away how much it’s grown just as a sport and then at this school too. It’s just gotten huge, which is awesome.”
Dibble attributes this rise in competition to the popularity of the sport, which has lead to club teams, where players can harness their skills year round instead of just in season once a year.
“When I started playing, volleyball wasn’t as big anywhere I think,” she said. “It was fun, it was very basic level. It was still competitive but when you look at the level volleyball is now, especially around here with all the girls playing club and stuff, it’s like a completely different sport. It’s always been competitive but now we’ve got girls that play club all year round and just the level and the intensity that it is, it’s completely different. ….It’s more strategic, it’s not just, go out there and play.”
Dibble says this evolution specifically impacts Lumpkin as much as any other team.
“You can see a difference, because the girls that play club all year round, every year they come back and they are so much better than they were the year before,” she said. “No matter how good they were to begin with. So I think that also helps with our team, because we have so many girls that are so dedicated in the offseason. They’re not just showing up to play for me and then quitting for a year. They’re showing up and they're playing club and then they’re coming back.”
Dibble noted that most of her players aren’t leaving the court once the season’s over either.
“Most of my starters are the basketball girls too,” she said. “So they’re working in basketball and all of that is helping them because they’re getting stronger, they're getting faster and they’re never taking a break. So I think that’s why we continue to grow too is because they work so hard when it’s not in season too.”
In the 11-year history of Lumpkin’s newest sports program, Dibble believes the program has gotten stronger each year.
“I don’t think we’ve backpedaled at all,” she said. “Since we’ve started, I think every year we have seen improvements and I think, part of it is everyone wants it more and now we’ve seen we’re competitive...Now we’ve been here long enough that we’re competitive and we’re the team that people look at that they want to beat.”
The players credit their coach for helping them turn that corner.
“She’s always been a really big part of us, because we just love her so much, she’s a great coach,” said volleyball senior Victoria Crotzer. “And then when she became our varsity coach, it just took us kind of to another level.”
Senior MaKenzie Caldwell agrees.
“Haley, honestly I don’t think we could’ve done it without her,” she said. “She’s helped us so much, she knows what we’re going through. With her experience, she’s gotten us so far. We wouldn’t be here without Haley.”
And if it wasn’t before, the 2020 squad made sure Lumpkin would have a target on its back in the future when they won the school’s first volleyball region championship and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for only the second time.
“Definitely now that we have won region, I think that’s the new expectation,” she said. “Are we going to win every year? Probably not, we’re in a tough region. We’ve got good competition all around us, but now that we know we can do it, it should never be a question again. I don’t think anybody should ever wonder, can Lumpkin County hang? I think we’ve proven we’re there for a reason.”
While Dibble’s love for the game started in her family, as coach, she’s brought her players together in a way that also feels like family.
“I joined my freshman year, starting out with actually Coach Dibble as my JV coach and this team is like a family to us,” Caldwell said. “We’ve grown together like a family and volleyball brings people together. It brought me some of my best friends; Isabel, Victoria, Savannah, they’ve been with me since freshman year.”
Dibble reciprocates this same love, which made losing her four seniors following this season an especially tough pill to swallow.
“I don’t want them to leave me. These girls, I think when I was coaching JV they were freshmen and they literally feel like my family,” she said. “They have made all the difference. They are the strongest and the best girls, not just athletically, but just as people. They have made all the difference to this team. They’re all leaders, all four of them are leaders. They give 100 percent at all times, they will do anything for the team. I’m so proud of them.”