Aug. 20, 2010
By Jon Cooper
The nickname “cradle of coaches” was given to the University of Miami, Ohio football program, which has produced a number of very successful football coaches.
The moniker could apply to the 2010 Georgia Tech Volleyball team, but for a different and more literal reason, as the squad features Alexis (aka Lexie) and Mariah Woodson, the daughters of former Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Mike Woodson, and Nicki Meyer, the oldest daughter of University of Florida Head Football Coach Urban Meyer.
But a special nickname associated with their famous dads is hardly what the trio wants. They prefer being recognized by the team for who they are. A request the team has obliged.
“When they step in the gym they’re not coaches’ daughters. They’re Georgia Tech volleyball players,” said Head Coach Tonya Johnson. “That’s how everyone on the team sees them. All three have been great additions to our program and we’re excited to have them be a part of it.”
The three sophomores are as excited to be in Atlanta and part of Georgia Tech, as Meyer, raised in Gainesville, Fla., chose to enroll at Tech as a true freshman, while the Woodsons transferred, Alexis from Indiana, Mariah from Florida.
“I love the city of Atlanta,” said Alexis, who recalled attending Tech volleyball matches as a junior year in high school. “When I went to Indiana I missed Atlanta a lot — the city, the lights, coming downtown, finding new little eateries or finding little shopping areas. So I love being here.”
Loving Atlanta and the Volleybees made transferring from her dad’s alma mater an easy decision and one which he fully supported.
“He wasn’t [upset] because it’s my decision and he wants me to be happy,” said the middle blocker. “Everybody thought it was so cool that my father went to play basketball at Indiana and I was there following in his footsteps playing volleyball. But I had to be happy and I wasn’t happy down there.”
Mariah felt a similar calling in coming home from UF to join her older sister.
“I actually knew most of the girls coming in here so I knew I wasn’t going to struggle socially with the team,” said the outside hitter, who played with Alexis at Woodward High School. “It’s nice knowing that I’m back home with my family and my friends. I feel a lot more comfortable.”
Neither felt comfortable playing basketball, despite living under the same roof as a very successful coach.
“For some reason I just never looked at basketball that way,” said Mariah. “I was off into cheerleading, and swimming, then volleyball. I never looked at basketball.”
“We both played basketball when we were younger, but we weren’t really fond of all that running up and down the court,” added Alexis. “Then we realized our potential was in jumping and that’s where we got into volleyball. It’s kind of funny because all my dad’s friends that are coaching, all their daughters play volleyball and not basketball.”
Meyer, who obviously didn’t have the option of playing football, found Atlanta to be the perfect place to forge her own identity.
“I wanted to do my own thing and be my own person,” said the Buchholz High School star, who is a libero/defensive specialist — a 180 from her dad, who is known for his gridiron offensive wizardry. “I knew if I stayed in Gainesville and went to Florida I would have been even more in his shadow, not Nicki Meyer, but Urban’s daughter. By being here, where there isn’t that connection to Florida, I’m more myself. I’ve always loved Atlanta so everything was just perfect.”
All three understand the celebrity attached to their high-profile dads, even if at the end of the day, they’re still just dad.
“When people first hear about it they’re like, ‘Oh my god! It’s so cool,'” said Mariah. “But really, it’s not that big a deal. People make it so much bigger than what it is.”
“He’s dad to us and coach to everyone else,” agreed Alexis. “Every time I saw him on TV I was like, ‘There’s my dad. He’s mad now.’ But when he comes home he’s still dad to us, and not the coach.”
Yet, no matter how much they’ve gotten used to seeing dad on TV and heard him in the media, its hard dealing with the negativity that accompanies the publicity.
“If I ever get defensive about anything it’s about him,” said Meyer. “People can say whatever they want about any other aspect of my life but when it comes to him, is when it hurts me the most. I know him better than anyone else. I think that’s why it hurts me because it’s not true for the most part. I’m trying to learn to get really thick-skinned about it, and block it out, but that’s definitely my soft spot.”
Alexis and Mariah were at Tech when their dad’s tenure as Hawks coach ended and, Nicki recalled the classy manner in which they reacted to the sensitive issue.
They handled it so well,” Meyer recalled. “They’re open to talk about everything that happened and they’re really cool. Personally, I don’t know how I would have dealt with that situation.”
All three will have to learn to deal with potentially emotional situations this season, as Alexis goes mano-a-mano with the Hoosiers in Tech’s season-opening match, Aug. 27 at O’Keefe Gymnasium, as part of the Georgia Tech Courtyard Marriott Classic, while Mariah will get a taste of the razzing when the Jackets visit Florida State on Oct. 10. Meyer, who endured the pre-game heckling by FSU faithful as a freshman last season, faces her sternest test, on the weekend of Sept. 10 and 11th, when the Yellow Jackets visit Athens to participate in the Bulldog Invitational.
“I went to Florida State last year and I heard a little bit during warm-ups but it was nothing that I couldn’t handle,” she said. “I feel like Georgia knows I’m here. They hate Georgia Tech as much as they hate Florida, so I’m kind of like double-whammie. So we’ll see how that goes. I’m excited to go but I need to learn how to block everything out when I’m there.”
“Nicki’s a great kid and I think she understands it more than people think she does,” said Johnson. “I think she’ll know how to handle herself in those instances and I hope that the Georgia fans are first-class fans when it comes to that.”
In case they’re not, Meyer has found common ground with the Woodson sisters and they act as their own support system.
“It’s really cool because they know where I’m coming from and I know where they’re coming from and we all have the understanding with each other,” said Meyer. “I’ve never played on a team with someone, other than my sister, who’s had a coach as a dad and in the public eye all the time. It’s just really cool to be with them, because they get it. They understand.”
They also understand that sometimes sports dads will be…well, sports dads, with unintended consequences the kids have to live with. Alexis recalls her dad coming home with a new look after the Hawks qualified for the 2008 NBA Playoffs.
“The shaved head, that wasn’t a surprise, but it was part of a deal that if they got into the playoffs he had to do one of three things and he chose that,” she said. “It’s kind of stuck with him and it’s been a good look on him.
“But I’m not going to shave my head,” she added with a laugh. “I like my hair. I’m sorry.”