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"Set" for Success--Interim Head Coach Continues Tradition

The 2022-23 Varsity volleyball team photo featuring both Randi Hammock (top left) and Kaitlyn Dula (top third from right). Both coaches will collaborate to help the Lady Eagles soar this year, one from on the court and the other just a phone call away. (Courtesy Photo)

By Emma Duncan--Eagle Editor

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “A good coach can change a game, but a great coach can change a life.” Ask any of the Lady Eagle Varsity volleyball players, and they’ll probably say this describes Coach Kaitlyn Dula, who’s had to temporarily step back from coaching this season due to cancer.

“I was diagnosed with periampullary cancer [in the pancreas] in March 2022,” Dula shared. “I had surgery in July and it is the hope of my doctors that they were able to remove the cancer. I am completing chemotherapy currently and hope to be feeling better shortly after.”

In order to better focus on her chemotherapy, Dula has temporarily stepped back from coaching the team she loves.

“I was definitely not planning on being away from the girls this year - with my diagnosis came the need to be out of work. It has been very hard to step away and I'm greatly looking forward to being back with the team.”

After acting as head coach for the past 5 years, Dula has had plenty of time to bond with her girls both on and off the court.

“Dula is the first coach who I had a real personal connection with,” junior Hope Greer, number 12, shared. “I got cut from the [middle school] team in my 7th-grade year and I started going to open gyms with Dula that year. She helped me improve immensely and is a major reason that I was able to make the team in 8th grade. She’s not only amazing at giving constructive criticism, but she’s also a very personable coach in general.”

Regardless of how long a player had known Dula, each Lady Eagle was struck by the news of Dula’s diagnosis and departure.

“It’s not something you want anyone to go through, especially people you love and care about,” sophomore Maddie Caron, number 7, said. “I didn’t fully comprehend that she needed to step back at the time but I get it now. When you’re first finding out that someone is sick like that it’s hard to comprehend the level that it’s on and there’s a lot of confusion. Not having her here for me as much has been really hard. It’s not something I’m used to yet and it’s incredibly sad.”

To ensure their coach knew how much they appreciated her, the team gave Dula a sendoff with flowers and two short speeches on August 16 during their first game.

“It was a beautiful reminder of why I do what I do. I typically avoid crying in public, but it was such a sweet gesture,” Dula recalled. “I was unaware that they were going to do anything but it made me feel very loved.”

While Dula was actively coaching this game, Randi Hammock, assistant coach now serving as interim head coach, also gave critiques and advice to the team.

Previously, Hammock shared the title of assistant coach with Amy McCrickard, who became head coach for the JV team this year.

“I brought both Amy and Randi up to the high school program with me early before I was diagnosed and knew that I would have to be out due to chemotherapy,” Dula said. “Randi was previously the head coach for [Patrick Henry Community College] so I knew she would be a good fit for interim head coach during my absence. I hope she has a great season this season and she knows that I fully support her!”

Hammock seemed just as confident in this season.

Interim Head Coach Randi Hammock (left center) gives her players some final words of encouragement before their game against E.C. Glass on September 1. (Photo by Emma Duncan)

“I hope that I can try to make the girls comfortable with me so I can be that backbone that Dula is” Hammock commented. “I know it won’t compare completely, but Dula and I share a lot of common knowledge: we both played in college, we’ve been coaching for a while, we have very similar thought patterns and we really have clicked during the time that we’ve worked together. I want to bring the girls success and coach them in that direction. Dula put her blood, sweat, and tears into this program; it’s her baby, and when she comes back I don’t want these girls to be used to anything less or different.”

Hammock also resembles Dula in the way she’s connecting with her players.

“I love each of them. They’re unique in their own way, they have all different personalities, but they’re all so fun. They remind me a lot of my group from coaching at college,” Hammock explained. “I really enjoy being a part of everything that’s happening this year no matter the outcome of any of our games or what’s to come. I’m just blessed and thankful to be able to be their coach this year.”

While questions have come up regarding the effect of a new head coach, Hammock doesn’t believe this change in leadership will drastically alter the team’s drive to win.

“I don’t think that it’s necessarily a matter of affecting their play because at the end of the day that’s their own but I definitely think the girls miss [Dula], it’s something I can see,” Hammock revealed. “If we can pull together and think, make decisions, and act collectively then we can go really far.”

Her players agreed and see Dula’s absence as even more inspiration to succeed.

“Dula’s absence has taken a toll on our team, yes, but I know that Coach Hammock is doing a great job running the team,” senior Ashlynn Haigler, number 10, added. “Things have been running differently… in the game but we are all playing for a reason. Dula will be back on the court as soon as she can and I can’t wait for that to happen.”

The Lady Eagles won’t have to miss Dula for long, however, as she will only be gone for a few months.

“My hopes are to be back at the beginning of next semester. I will be back coaching this spring,” Dula anticipated. “I feel extremely blessed to be a part of such a great program. Through this very tough year, [Franklin County Volleyball] has been a bright light in my life.”

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