Friends Form Bond Over Volleyball, Coaching
Corey Marks Deese was 13 years old and Alicia Hill was 10 when the pair became teammates for the first of many times on a recreational all-star basketball team.
Deese went on to earn conference player of the year honors in basketball as a junior at Union Pines, and twice made all-conference in volleyball before graduating in 2000. Hill graduated from North Moore in 2003 after earning all-conference honors in three sports.
About a dozen years after that first acquaintance, the UNC-Pembroke graduates are combining to give the volleyball program at Purnell Swett High School in Pembroke a big boost.
Last month, Deese was honored as the Two Rivers Conference Volleyball Coach of the Year. A few miles away, Hill led the 7th and 8th grade team of one of the district's feeder schools, Prospect Elementary, to an undefeated season.
The daughter of Darrell and Susan Marks of Foxfire, Deese played two years of basketball and one year of volleyball in college and is one course away from receiving a master's degree.
In her first season as the coach at Purnell Swett, she led a Rams squad that won only one game the year before to a league record of 7-5 and a spot in the state playoffs.
Valerie Maness, her volleyball coach at Union Pines, is not surprised about her early success as a coach.
"Corey was never one that had to be motivated to play well and that's just carried over to her coaching," Maness says. "She's going to give her best and she's going to require the best from her kids on the court and off the court.
"She's just starting, so look for good things."
Deese gained insights into coaching early from her father who coached many of the basketball teams she played on. And at the ripe old age of 14, she began coaching an AAU team that included Hill as one of its players.
"I think because I was older, they listened to me," Deese recalls. "I enjoyed it and that's where it started."
Hill is the daughter of Ricky and Tammy Hill of Bennett. Her brother Chad is the varsity baseball coach at Union Pines. In her senior volleyball season at UNC-P in 2006, she was second on the team in kills and digs, and led the Braves in service aces. She is scheduled to receive a master's degree in education from the school later this month.
In 2003, the two friends became reacquainted as members of the Brave volleyball team.
"The day she came for tryouts," Deese says, "I saw her in the hallway and it was just like old times. I sat and talked with her mom and her dad. We hit it off like always."
Deese played basketball for two years at UNC-P. She received scholar-athlete awards as a member of the basketball and volleyball teams before a severe ankle injury, suffered while playing volleyball, ended her competitive career.
"She went to college as an athlete and became a student," Darrell Marks says.
Upon graduation, Deese became an art teacher at Prospect Elementary and also coached the school's first volleyball team. The Wildcats compiled a record of 25-3 in her two years at the helm.
She and Hill also helped improve the skill level of current and future high school players by collaborating on three years of summer volleyball camps. That gave Deese a head start when practices for her first Purnell Swett squad began last summer.
"We play the Fayetteville schools that play Junior Olympic volleyball year round," Deese says. "We were just years behind, so this year we started workouts the week school got out for the summer."
Before the season began in August, the new coach asked her players to set some goals. One of them was to win half of their games.
"I told them you're coming off a season where you only won one game," she recalls. "Why don't we shoot lower, and if we reach it, then we'll increase it. Honestly, after that first game against Scotland, I didn't think they'd win 25 per cent of their games."
After starting off 0-3, the Rams posted a dramatic come-from-behind win at E.E. Smith. They won 10 of their next 16 matches before losing in the semi-finals of the conference tournament and in a first round state playoff match at Hoggard to finish 10-11.
"It was more of a mental thing with them than skills," Deese says. "They had been going to the gym for so long expecting to lose -- that had been their mentality. You had to teach them how to be winners."
The coach of the year recognition was secondary to the post season honors received by her players.
"It's a huge honor, but it's more important to me that I had girls that made all-conference," she says. "We hadn't had any girls get honors in probably four years (2004) so the fact that we got four on the first or second team was a huge accomplishment."
When Deese accepted the coaching position at Purnell Swett, the first person she thought about recommending as her replacement at Prospect Elementary was Hill.
"She called me and told me she had gotten an opportunity to coach at the high school," Hill says. "She felt if she was going to turn it over to anybody, she'd like to turn it over to me. I'm graduating in December and it was just a perfect opportunity.
"Corey was such a good role model for me. I look up to her a lot. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have gotten this coaching position."
The high school season was over when Hill's squad met Pembroke in the Robeson County middle school tournament. Before a packed crowd at the Prospect gym, Deese and one of her all-conference players, junior setter Brittany Locklear, watched intently as the teams from the two schools that feed Purnell Swett performed.
"She's very hard on us," Locklear said when asked to describe her coach. "But I love her method. She breaks it down for us. When we don't do what we're supposed to do she lets us have it, but we have fun."
Just as it might have been at a recreation gym in Moore County 12 years ago, the spectators also included Darrell Marks, Ricky Hill and Alicia's grandmother, Mae Hill.
Prospect won in three games to improve to 13-0. A couple of days later they played again and won the county middle school title.
Hill is taking no shortcuts in preparing her players for the tougher competition they will face in high school. Regardless of whether starters or substitutes were on the court, the playbook was the same.
"I tell the girls I don't care if we win every game or if we lose points," she says. "We're going to do it the right way. We're going to pass, set and spike, and that's what we do every single day. Knowing I'm going to be sending them to Corey, I know they're only going to get better.
"This is the best we've played. I told them we've been waiting all season for the playoffs."
There are changes ahead for the two young adults. Deese and her husband Josh, a member of the teaching and football coaching staff at Purnell Swett, are expecting their first child in May. Next fall, Purnell Swett will be a part of a new conference that includes Pinecrest where Deese went to school in her freshman and sophomore years.
Hill's grand slam home run in the 2003 state softball finals in Raleigh was a shot heard all the way back in Moore County. It helped put North Moore within a game of winning a state title that was not to be. She recently took another big step by accepting an offer to teach sixth grade reading and coach the girls' basketball team at Prospect Elementary, beginning in January.
The young coaches have been influenced by many in their roles as coaches and teachers. Hill's list includes her parents and brother, Darrell Marks, her high school coaches, and UNC-Pembroke volleyball coaches Beverly Justice and Jeff Billington.
In addition to Maness and her father, Deese says Union Pines coach Nat Carter had a huge influence on her.
Because of the range of experiences they have had at several levels, they may be wise beyond their years as coaches of young people. Deese was asked about the most important thing she learned from Maness who she continues to confer with often.
"Just to be there whenever the kids need you no matter what time it is," she says.
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